It’s Just Pie, It’s Jes’ Pie, It’s Lemon Chess Pie!

Thick, creamy, and smooth in texture, Lemon Chess Pie is a southern dessert that is full of flavor and easy to make. Consisting primarily of four ingredients – sugar, eggs, butter, and flour – chess pie exists in multiple forms, but the lemon version is the one I chose to try for my first attempt at making the pie I was told is devine.

I hadn’t heard of chess pie until about two weeks ago when I started chatting pies with a few foodies after FoodieChats on Twitter (join in on Mondays at 8pm!) and Sara Blankenship (@sarabphd) told me about this glorious pie. Sara described chess pie as devine and sent me a recipe link. I was so excited I had a “new” (well, new to me!) recipe to attempt. A week later Food 52 shared Four and Twenty Blackbirds’ Lemon Chess Pie recipe and it felt like fate – foodie fate. I knew I had to make this pie.

After looking over several recipes, I decided to try Food 52’s recipe first since I always have such great results whenever I try any of their recipes (for example, see my post about Food 52’s Irish Soda Bread – my first attempt and it was DELICIOUS).

Before I baked chess pie, I decided I would need to learn a little more about it. In other words, I needed to know why it’s called chess pie, and I knew you’d want to know why too, reader.

It’s history and origins are uncertain, but there are several options which all make for a good story shared over a piece of pie. Three versions of chess pie’s origin are attributed to Southern drawl and a fourth version sounds somewhat random:

“It’s just pie” became “It’s jes pie,” which became “It’s chess pie”;

“Chess pie” in place of “cheese pie” also known as the traditional English lemon curd pie, and historically “cheese” used to be spelled “chese”;

Chess pie was stored in pie chests at room temperature and the dropping of the “t” in “chest” to become “chess,” which seems plausible;

Finally, some suggest Southern gentleman would traditionally eat this pie while playing chess, but I find this explanation to be too much of a stretch.

No matter what its origins may be, chess pie is a Southern dessert you must try. The pie was a hit at my house today, and it was even kid approved by my young nieces and nephews!

• Zest of 1 lemon
• 1 2/3 cup cups of granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon stone-ground yellow cornmeal
• 1 tablespoon flour
•1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
• 5 Large eggs
• 2/3 cups heavy cream
• 7 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
• 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
•1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. Place the prebaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet.

3. In large bowl, stir together the lemon zest, sugar, cornmeal, flour, and salt.

4. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir in the melted butter.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Mix briskly until the filling is thick and light colored. 20131117-152209.jpg
6. Stir in the heavy cream, followed by the lemon juice, orange juice, and vanilla extract.
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7. Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the pie shell, or strain it into a separate bowl and then pour it into the shell. 20131117-151708.jpg
8. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking.

9. The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still wobbles slightly; it should be lightly golden on top. Be careful not to overbake or the custard can separate; the filling will continue to cook and set as it cools.

10. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 3 to 4 hours. Slice and serve.

The pie will keep refrigerated for 2 days or at room temperature for 1 day.

This recipe is from Food 52, which you can read here.

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