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Martha Hall Foose’s Sweet Tea Lemon Chess Pie

My friend Martha Hall Foose is a chef, author, teacher and storyteller. She combines homegrown Mississippi Delta smarts with professional culinary education, work in France, and world travels, and her writing and teaching open windows into the kitchen for her readers and students. Her book, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook won the prestigious James Beard Award for 2009, and it belongs on your bookshelf and kitchen counter if you love Southern cooking or just want to know more about it from a brilliant writer-cook. Martha’s Sweet Tea Lemon Chess Pie is luxuriously rich, perfectly paired with her cream cheese pastry, which is simply patted into the pie pan with no need to roll it out. You’ll find it in my pie book, and also in the just published treasury, The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook, because she is so generous and her pie is so good.

Even those who haven’t taken a liking to sweet iced tea can usually get behind a generous slice of Ms. Foose’s famous Sweet Tea Pie.

Martha Hall Foose’s Sweet Tea Lemon Chess Pie

Adapted from The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook

Cream Cheese Piecrust

3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup (1/4 pound, 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

For the piecrust, combine cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer until they are evenly combined. Add the flour and continue beating a low speed just until the dough comes together into a ball. Press and pat the dough into a pie pan, building up a thicker top edge of the crust. Set the piecrust in the freezer while you prepare the filling.


Sweet Tea Lemon Chess Filling

3/4 cup warm, freshly brewed strong orange pekoe tea

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cornmeal

Zest of one lemon

1 cup (1/2 pound, 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

8 large egg yolks


Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl or pitcher, combine the tea, vanilla, lemon juice and vinegar and stir well. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornmeal, and lemon zest, and stir with a fork to mix them together well.

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter until it is fluffy. Add the sugar-flour mixture gradually, and continue beating to combine well. Add the egg yolks a few at a time, mixing well each time. Add the tea mixture and beat to combine everything evenly and well. The filling will be soft and liquid, not thick, and may seem curdled, but don’t worry about that.

Pour the filling into the piecrust. Bake until the top and crust are handsomely browned, and the pie is fairly firm throughout, with just a little jiggling in the center, about 50 minutes. Place on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and cool to room temperature. Chill two hours or more before serving.

From  The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook, Edited by Sara Roahen and John T. Edge; University of Georgia Press, 2010. All rights reserved.

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. The Duo Dishes Reply

    Watching Martha Hall Foose make her Sweet Tea Pie with Paula Deen right now. It’s also reminiscent of Momofuku’s Crack Pie. We’ve both had chess pie, and it is almost too sweet for us. Bet the tea and lemon help to cut the sugar factor, but there are probably easy ways we can adjust this one for a fun holiday party!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Right you are, Dearest Duo-Dishes! That famous ‘crack pie’ like this one is a version of chess pie, an old-timer in new high-heels to my mind, with the high-heels taking the form of an oatmeal cookie crust. I will say that this Sweet Tea Pie is very very rich. There’s lemon juice and zest, but standard chess pie has a tablespoon of vinegar in it, and her version has more butter and beaucoup egg yolks, so it is rich, and deliciously so. You might want to consider a lemon chess pie, which brings tangy notes into the sweetness picture. And you know holidays can handle some excess, so I figure y’all can’t go wrong. I don’t have the pleasure of knowing Paula Deen, but I love her. And I am so lucky that M. H. Foose is a friend–she’s the best and her books are the proof.

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