Chess pie is an old family favorite that my grandma would often make. This pie is a rich, creamy, buttery dessert, made with basic pantry items, and is super simple to put together. Grandma’s old fashioned chess pie is also known to some as the pantry pie or cornmeal pie.
What is Chess Pie?
It seems the big questions about chess pie floating around the Internet are how it got its name and where it originated. There are so many theories, but after a lot of research, I found several consistent articles that say it came from England and is a southern staple in the United States. Another consistency among most articles is that the pie uses very basic ingredients, because there was a point in time when many people could only afford very basic pantry staples. Some articles even refer to it as the pantry pie or cornmeal pie.
My grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and at one point my grandpa worked for a payment of milk and eggs while my grandma stayed home with their four children. Grandma spoke often about the simple dishes she would make, because she only had basic ingredients and a large family to feed. My grandma’s old fashioned chess pie recipe is one of those simple, yet inexpensive dishes.
ingredients in Chess Pie
Chess pie has many recipe variations across the Internet. Some use buttermilk, some use lemon, and there are articles that claim chestnut flour was used at one time. However, my grandma’s recipe uses basic ingredients like eggs, milk, vanilla, sugar and butter. The odd ingredients you wouldn’t expect…cornmeal and vinegar. Hence, why some people refer to it as cornmeal pie.
Vinegar is used in the recipe to help cut the sweetness. As I mentioned, some recipes call for lemon, but back in the early days when this recipe was popular, citrus was hard to find. Therefore, many cooks would use vinegar, because it was an ingredient stocked in most pantries.
I have read about various reasons for using cornmeal in the recipe. Some say the cornmeal gives the pie it’s golden brown top; I have also read that it was used in place of chestnut flour when that was hard to find; and some articles say it was a replacement for flour when cornmeal was all the cook had on hand.
My grandma was great at using whatever ingredients were available in her pantry, and I know she always had cornmeal in her pantry. My grandparents were super thrifty and could make good use of whatever they were blessed to have during hard times.
How to Make Chess Pie
Honestly, this pie is so simple to make. All you do is mix the ingredients together with a whisk and pour into an unbaked pie shell. When I make this pie, I take a shortcut and use a frozen pie crust. It only bakes for 35-40 minutes, and you have a delicious pie ready to serve.
My Grandma’s Recipes
I love having this space on the Internet to document some of my grandma’s recipes. Many of her recipes are so simple, since money was often tight and she only had few ingredients.
She was an amazing cook and taught me how to cook many of her favorite family recipes. I would sit with her for hours and write them down because she knew most of them by memory. At one time, my dad documented several of them for a family cookbook.
You can find the recipes I’ve documented in Grandma’s Recipes. Stay tuned for more to come.
- ½ cup melted butter (1 stick)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp. corn meal
- 1 tsp. vinegar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 5 tbsp. milk
- 3 whole eggs
- 1 unbaked pie shell
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Melt butter and let cool slightly.
- Mix ingredients in order, except for pie shell.
- Pour mixed ingredients into unbaked pie shell.
- Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until set.
- Let cool and enjoy!
Hi Molly! I love this and can’t wait to try the recipe! I too saved all my grandma’s and mama’s recipes. Such treasures. I have a large family and I am always looking for tasty recipes that don’t break the bank. Love your blog <3
Linda M Purcell
This looks so delicious. Just my cup of tea. I can’t wait to try it.
I have an unbaked pie crust in my freezer since it came in a pack of two. This looks like a great recipe to use it in since I tend to have these ingredients on hand at any given time!
Oh my! So easy and sounds so delicious! Adding it on my list to try! Thanks
I LOVE to bake! My specialties are macarons and pavlovas, but I’m starting to explore cakes and pies now. I only had chess pie once from a bakery near me. But I’ve not come across a recipe worth trying till now. My brother’s wife likes to buy frozen pies or store-baked pies but I prefer to make everything from scratch as much as possible. I can’t wait to try this recipe!
This looks so good and love the history behind it! Trying this recipe for sure.
I know they were born from a very difficult time in history, but I simply adore all of the recipes that came out of the Great Depression. Being able to create something yummy from so little is so inspiring to me.
Definitely adding this to the “must try” list!
Molly, your grandma’s pie recipe sounds so delicious, and it looks so beautiful! It sounds somewhat similar to custard pie. Oldies but goodies and the stories behind them are so treasured! Grandma’s always made the best everything! Definitely will try it!
This is one of my favorite pies! Simple and so delicious! Love having it any time, particularly during the holidays. It is definitely a “comfort” dessert!
I want to make this but I really love Lemon chesc
Do you know how much lemon juice would go into a lemon chess pie using this recipe