chess pie

buttermilk chess pie

You may have noticed by now that I don’t make a lot of sweets – I honestly don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and when I do crave dessert it’s usually chocolate chip cookies. One type of dessert I do go for, however, is custard. Whether it’s an old fashioned cup custard, a fancy crème brûlée, or a pear custard pie, I love the creamy tartness of it.

I had had a piece of plain custard pie – no fruit – a few years ago when we happened across the Pie Lady’s shop in Blackwater, a tiny town in central Missouri. It was incredible, and I always said I was going to make it at home – then, of course, never did. But I recently became aware of the existence of something called chess pie. A plain, very sweet custard pie, it’s a classic Southern dessert often made with cornmeal and lemon, but sometimes buttermilk. I had buttermilk in the fridge this week, and decided to see what I could do with it.

After some hunting, I found that I had a few recipes for chess pie, buttermilk and otherwise, but I decided on this version I found at npr.org because it had adjustments for the less aggressive sweet tooth. It doesn’t have cornmeal, though, so I might need to try it again replacing the flour with corn. It was one of the easiest pies I ever made – once I had the crust ready, I just needed to whisk all the ingredients together and pour them into the shell. The hard part turned out to be waiting a whole hour for the pie to bake, as it filled the house with golden buttery smells.

buttermilk chess pie

It puffed up a lot during baking, then settled into a lovely crusty smoothness. We served it with fresh local blueberries, which perfectly suited the sweet-tart-butteriness of the pie.

Buttermilk Chess Pie

Borrowed from Natalie Y. Moore on npr.org.

This is the only version I’ve made so far – next time I’m substituting cornmeal for the flour. For a more traditional, sweeter version, omit one egg and scale the buttermilk back to 1 cup. A little lemon zest would probably not go amiss here, either.

You could use a boughten unbaked crust here, but I used my usual pie dough approach of 1 cup flour, 2 Tbsp butter, 2 Tbsp lard, a pinch of salt, and ice water.

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour, plus a little for dusting
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

Preheat oven to 325°.

Beat the eggs and add sugar and flour. Then add melted butter and mix well. Whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla.

Dust the unbaked pie shell with a little bit of flour. Pour batter into shell, and then sprinkle a little more flour on top.

Bake at 325° until the custard is set and the pie is golden on top, approximately 1 hour. Let cool before serving.

buttermilk chess pie

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3 thoughts on “chess pie

  1. Do you believe the origin for this pie is ‘it’s jus pie?’ I’ve always wondered this – and I’m really inclined to look for Blackwater, MO the next time I’m there.

    BTW, the pie picks you took of Miss Imogene’s pies make everything look perfectly summer. Mmm mmm.

    1. It doesn’t sound like anyone really knows. I’m kind of leaning towards the “cheese” pie interpretation. And I would love to know if the pie lady is still in business – will you be going that way?

  2. I know no more than anyone else about the origin of the term “chess” pie, but I personally like the “it’s jus’ pie” explanation (with the pronunciation of “pie” stretched way out and closer to “pa-EYE”).

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