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Sweet. SImple. Satisfying.


Chess pie comes to mind when I want to get a magnificent sweet onto the table with the least bit of fuss imaginable. Chess in its multiple versions and incarnations, and custard in its multiple versions and incarnations, are the twin grandmothers of the Southern pie kitchen, and if you find a favorite and make it a few times in a row, you will have it in your head and hands and be able to turn one out on a dime, or perhaps, in today’s financial world, a quarter. If this looks a lot like brown sugar pie to you from earlier in the month, that’s because it is a lot like brown sugar pie. It’s a lot like vinegar pie, and syrup pie, and molasses pie, and transparent pie — they are all cousins and they all get along just fine. This particular chess pie comes from a cookbook I treasure and study often: The Southern Cookbook by Marion Brown. First published in 1951 by the University of North Carolina Press, it is still in print (bless their brilliant hearts) and a must for you if you want to dig into the subject of food and cooking in the South. Find out more about this book here:

I made two pies, since I wanted enough to share with some friends, and as is typical of my cooking, though I personally made both pies and followed the same recipe using the same oven, they don’t look alike. I don’t mean the crust detail — I did that on purpose, I mean the color and texture. I love that about cooking, and I hope you make and love this pie. First the photo of Chess Pie #2, and then the recipe:


Chess Pie 2: Same recipe, same baker (me!), bit of a different-looking pie

Mrs. Moore’s Chess Pie from

The Southern Cook Book

by Marion Brown (UNC Press)

Mrs. Brown credits this recipe to Mrs. S. I. Moore, of Burlington, NC, where Mrs. Brown lived and worked. She notes that it appeared in Soup to Nuts, a wildly popular communituy cookbook published by the Burlington Episcopal Church. I’ve adapted this recipe a little bit, to keep things clear.

1 unbaked 9-inch piecrust

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon flour

1 teaspoon vanilla (I used almond since I’m out of vanilla)

1/2 egg shell of milk (about 3 tablespoons)

1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)

2 eggs, unbeaten

Mix together the white and brown sugar and flour. Break the 2 eggs in to the mixture, add milk and vanilla. Melt butter and pour in last. Bake in slow (325-degree) oven in the uncooked pastry shell (piecrust). If baked around 30 to 35 minutes, it is better than if cooked fast. When done it will look puffed and yellow; when cooled it falls into rich jelly-like consistency. (Mrs. Brown notes: This mixture makes delicious little tarts. Put tablespoon in each uncooked pastry shell, bake as above. Serve with whipped cream.)



About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.
  1. Sally Pasley Vargas Reply

    Nancie, I’m pretty sure this is the same pie we used to make in our restaurant in the seventies! The book has disappeared along the way–it was in paperback–dog-eared and stained–with maybe a yellow cover? Brings back memories and is giving me a raging sweet tooth at the moment, luckily too late at night to satisfy it!

    p.s. love your recipes and love your latest book!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Sally, many thanks. Marion Brown’s cookbook has been reprinted several times over the half century + (!!!) since it first appeared in bookstores. I have several editions, old and the current one from UNC Press. — I look for the old versions used, both online and in secondhand stores. Do you love how the recipe says “a half an eggshell of milk?”

  2. Belinda Smith-Sullivan Reply

    Just when I think you can’t top yourself you do. Next to coconut cake, this was my mothers’ second favorite dessert!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      @Belinda, that means the world to me. We’ll make us a coconut cake one of these days, and stir up a chess pie while it bakes, okay? And I will want some piri piri chicken from your latest blogpost, Ms. Flying Foodie! Folks, check and you will get hungry fast.

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