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Old Fashioned Hand-Me-Down Southern Chess Pie

Always save room for pie if you are in the south or planning to stop by Mimi's Kitchen.

Southerners like their pie. We also like our sugar. We like sugar in cake and we like sugary frosting on our cakes but mostly we like sugar in pie. One of my favorite southern classics is Chess pie.

Chess pie is a sweet southern pie. I mean really sweet. It is made with sugar, butter, cream, and egg yolks. Some Chess pies call for a bit of flour while others call for cornmeal. My favorite Chess pie calls for both.

Whereas I am a lover of all things sweet, Chess pie can be a little too sweet so I use both buttermilk and lemon to counter the sugar.

The origin of the name of the pie is uncertain. Some stories sound a bit far-fetched while others are just too prim. One such story is that the pie is called Chess pie because it was eaten in a room designated for playing chess. Seriously.

My favorite story includes a plantation cook who was asked what she was baking that smelled so great – “Jes pie was her answer.” I will go with this story. It sounds down to earth and plausible just like the people who enjoy Chess Pie.

Pie Filling

1 partially baked pie shell; instructions are given below to blind bake the pastry shell to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom

1½ cups granulated sugar

4 teaspoons cornmeal

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup butter, melted and cooled

½ cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

4 large eggs

½ teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


Preheat oven to 375°.

To blind bake the pastry for Chess Pie line pie pan with pastry and crimp edges. Let pastry chill for 45-60 minutes.

Line the chilled pie pastry with a double layer of aluminum foil, covering the edges to prevent burning. Fill the crust with ceramic pie weights or dried beans. Bake pastry for 25 - 30 minutes. After baking carefully lift the aluminum foil (and weights) out of the pie pan. Let the partially baked pastry cool on baking racks.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°.

To make the Chess Pie filling whisk together the sugar, lemon zest, cornmeal, flour, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the melted and cooled butter, buttermilk, and vanilla; mix well using a wire whisk.

In a separate bowl lightly beat the eggs and lemon juice. Stir egg mixture into buttermilk mixture. Pour mixture into the prepared pie shell and bake until golden brown and set, 50-60 minutes. The center will be set and the top golden brown when the pie is fully baked.

Use a pie shield (or aluminum foil) on the edges after about 20 minutes to prevent crust from over-browning.

Let cool completely on a rack. Serve freshly whipped cream and a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg on top.

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