I remember visiting my Grandmother in Charlottesville, Virginia and tasting my very first creamy, sweet and delicious lemon chess pie. This classic recipe was passed down to her and has been around for generations in our family. But apparently the exact origin of the Southern chess pie is a bit of a mystery.
According to food historians and folklore, there are a few ideas. One theory is that English lemon curd pie filling is very close to lemon chess pie, and the word “chess” is an Americanization of the English word “cheese,” referring to this curd pie. Another explanation proposes that the word is actually chest—pronounced with a drawl—and used to describe how these pies can be stored in a pie chest rather than refrigerated. There’s also the story of the plantation cook who was asked what she was baking because it smelled so good, and “Jes pie” was her answer. It really doesn’t matter where this recipe came from, all you need to know is that it’s a keeper. Pass it along!
Lemon Chess Pie
Pie Shell Ingredients:
2 cups Patrick Henry All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2/3 cup of unsalted butter, cut into ¼ cups
¼ cup plus a few tablespoons of ice water
Instructions for Pie Crust:
Put flour into a mixing bowl with the butter. Use a pastry cutter and cut the butter into the flour. Add salt and just enough water so dough just holds together. You’ll know when the mixture is ready when you pinch some of the crumbly dough with your fingers and it holds together. Roll out on flat surface.
Directions for Filling:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix butter, sugar and vanilla together in a large bowl. Stir in the eggs, cornmeal, evaporated milk, lemon juice and zest and mix until smooth.
Bake for 40-50 minutes until the center sets. If you like, sprinkle a touch of powdered sugar on top for presentation.