-- Josh Waitzkin in the 1993 film, Searching for Bobby Fischer
I think that's why they call it "Chess Pie*."
To paraphrase another famous line from the movie:
"This pie is better than I've ever been at anything in my life. It's better than you'll ever be, at anything. This pie is a gift. It's a gift, and when you acknowledge that, then maybe we will have something to talk about."**
I tip my king to this pie.
Lemon Chess Pie
From Southern Pies, a staple on my cookshelf. Made in honor of National Pi Day, and because I still have a s%#!load of lemons on my tree. Don't be fooled by the name! This is nothing like a traditional lemon tart or pie, full of zingy lemon tang. This is an almost (but not quite) too sweet, melt-in-your mouth egg custard pie, with just a hint of lemon flavor. The texture is to die for.
Crust for 9 inch pie
2 c. sugar
2 Tbs. cornmeal
1 Tbs. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
grated zest from 2 lemons
4 eggs, well beaten
1/4 c. evaporated milk
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350, line a pie plate with the crust, and set aside. You can also use a 10 inch tart pan with removable sides if you like.
Whisk together the sugar, flour, cornmeal, salt and lemon zest in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, then add the evaporated milk and the butter. Stir that mixture into the sugar mix, and whisk until combined. Add the lemon juice and whisk until smooth.
Pour into prepared crust. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until top is just beginning to brown (ooh, that part tastes extra good!), and custard moves only slightly when pie is jiggled. Remove from the oven, and cool to room temperature before serving.
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* The more common theories behind the name, excerpted from History of Pies:
Chess pies are a Southern specialty that has a simple filling of eggs, sugar, butter, and a small amount of flour. [Note from me: There are about a dozen different variations of Chess Pie in the Southern Pies cookbook: chocolate, buttermilk, vinegar, maple...!] The origin of the name is uncertain, but there are plenty of guesses and a bit of folklore surrounding the name.
- One explanation suggests that the word is “chest,” pronounced with a drawl and used to describe these pies baked with so much sugar they could be stored in a pie chest rather than refrigerated.
- Another story is about the plantation cook who was asked what she was baking that smelled so great - “Jes’ pie” was her answer.
- Some people theorize that since the English lemon curd pie filling is very close to lemon chess pie, and they believe the word “chess” is an Americanization of the English word “cheese,” referring to curd pie.
This is one of my all-time favorite movies. If you haven't seen it, shame on you. Make a pie, sit your butt down, and just do it.