Southern pie mostly sweet, with a tart kick
Nothing like starting the new year with a food you've never tasted. Or for that matter, never even heard of.
For 2008 in my case that would be Chess Pie.
Beth Nelson e-mailed in search of a an old recipe that she'd lost. I started poking around and found lots of information on what turns out to be a Southern specialty, a cross between a custard pie and a pecan pie without the pecans.
Actually, it can have pecans, or other types of nuts, or coconut, lemon or chocolate. It's one of those traditional dishes that has vamped through time to incorporate lots of variations.
The basic recipe calls for eggs, milk, sugar and butter -- like a custard pie -- with cornmeal for thickening and vinegar for some acidic twang that somewhat moderates the sweetness. Sometimes the vinegar and milk are replaced by buttermilk; sometimes the cornmeal by flour.
I opted to try one with some brown sugar, which yielded a really nice toffee flavor, but if you prefer a lighter taste, go with all white sugar. It's basically a pantry pie -- the ingredients are likely to be in your fridge and cupboard and are easily mixed together. What emerged from my oven was one of the prettiest things I've ever baked -- all puffy and golden.
In time the puffiness settled and the pie just looked like a pie. A nice pie, though. Sweet, rich and creamy, with the cornmeal giving it a unique texture.
As for that name -- here I crib from Diana Rattray, a Mississippi cook who writes about Southern cooking for About.com. She says the name "chess" could be an allusion to cheese; there's no cheese in the pie but it is sort of cheesecake-like in texture. Or it could have been named after the pie chest in which it was stored.
Her best explanation, though: Husband asks wife what kind of pie it is and she says, "I don't know. It's ches' pie."
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1/4 cup evaporated milk
4 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cream butter and sugars. Mix in the eggs, then add remaining ingredients and stir until smooth. Pour into pie shell. Bake 30 minutes, until center is set and top is golden.
Nutritional information unavailable.
While we're talking pies
Last week's request from Yoshikazu Yoshimura for a recipe for Holly's apple pie, which he used to buy frozen at the supermarket, brought forth no recipe, but a dozen of e-mails about the pie. It does seem to have a devoted following.
It's really called Holy's Pie, from a bakery in Kapaau on the Big Island, and is carried in KTA Stores there. On Oahu it is still available at Star Market in Moiliili.
I hope to have more on this story a little farther into the new year.
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