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A southern classic for the holiday

Posted by Sheryl Julian November 22, 2010 08:32 PM


I always wanted to make a real southern chess pie, which is essentially eggs, butter, sugar, and a little cornmeal or flour. I found a recipe that also calls for lemon juice. Since I miss my mother's unparalleled lemon meringue pie this time of year, I made the lemon version. First I made a pie crust and used foil and dried beans to bake it well. 

chesspie2.JPGThen I poured in the filling and continued baking. (My handiwork around the edge could be better....) When it' was done, the center was still slightly wobbly. I was worried that it wouldn't set. But it did, and beautifully. The result is a very sweet filling, lemony, quite good. Slices look high, golden, and firm. I'll make it again and again.


The recipe comes from Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant & Bakery in Staunton, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley, where Globe staff writer John Burgess goes for fried chicken, and where I went years ago for biscuits and ham. Last year, a book of recipes came out and this pie was in the collection.

Lemon chess pie

Makes one 9-inch pie


1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut up

1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon vinegar and 1 tablespoon ice water

Extra flour (for sprinkling)

1. In a bowl, stir the flour and salt to blend them. Add the butter and shortening and use a pastry blender or two blunt knives to work the mixture until it forms crumbs.

2. Sprinkle the egg mixture on the flour. Stir with one knife or a fork until the mixture comes together to form large moist clumps. Add another tablespoon of ice water, if necessary, so the dough comes together.

3. Turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and knead lightly to form a dough. Shape it into a flat disk. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

4. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Have on hand a 9-inch pie pan and baking beans.

5. On a lightly floured counter, roll the dough to an 11-inch round. Lift it on the rolling pin and ease it into the pie pan. Fold under the edges and crimp them. Line the pastry with foil and beans. Bake the pie for 15 minutes or until it is set at the edges. Remove the foil and continue baking for 10 minutes or until the bottom is cooked. Set on a rack to cool.

6. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees.


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut up

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoon cornmeal

Juice of 1 1/2 lemons

1. In a saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the cornmeal and lemon juice.

2. Set the pie on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the filling into the pie crust. Bake the pie for 35 minutes or until it is deep golden brown and the center is set, but may wiggle a little if you shake the pie gently. Set aside to cool completely. Adapted from "Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies"                                  




About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

The Recipe Box Project:

If you want to contribute a recipe to The Recipe Box Project, please write it below. Also tell us where you got it (package box, cookbook, mom, friend -- include the name). We're looking for the kinds of dishes that people grew up on, that were served at family suppers, that tell a story, that are typically New England, or that you brought with you from a far away place to New England. We will print one of the recipes in the Food section once a month. To ask any questions, write to Debra Samuels, who is overseeing this project, at To discuss your recipes, click here.