When I was a child, chess pie was my favorite dessert. Chess pie is a phenomenon of Tennessee and perhaps Kentucky. It is not subtle. It is rich and sweet and buttery. It has some characteristics in common with caramel pies, but the flavor and texture are different. It is not subtle or savory. It’s just teeth-stickingly sweet.
As the youngest of five children sometimes I got lost in the shuffle. Mother was convinced that chess pie was my brother Gil’s favorite (true) and that mine was something else (not true). One time I came home from college to Aunt Geneva’s coconut pie, which was excellent, but far down my list of favorites. I’ll never forget how hurt Mother looked when I told her she baked the wrong pie for me. That was part of our relationship, I’m afraid–she came up with something that wasn’t personal to me, and I punished her for it. Not very kind of either of us. Mothers and daughters often are not much fun, but sometimes we learn from our experiences.
Once she got the message I got my chess pie. I don’t know where the name came from or its history, but it goes back a long way in the middle South. It must have been a luxury when sugar was in short supply. My brother gave the recipe to the mess cook in South Carolina when he was in the Air Force, and introduced it to a number of hapless Yankees as well as Southerners.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cornmeal
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 cup milk
1/2 stick melted butter
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix and pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 – 45 minutes or until firm when pressed lightly in the middle.