Lemon Chess Pie from Vintage Pies : Classic American Pies for Today’s Home Baker by Anne Haynie Collins.
My friend Anne Collins’ love affair with pie began over forty years ago, at a family picnic. She recalls, “When I was eight or nine, one of my grandmother’s uncles said he “wisht” he had a piece of Pearl’s amber pie.” You’ve never heard of amber pie? Anne’s grandmother Pearl, who was known for her pie making, explained to her that amber pie was made when the pecan crop was poor. It’s basically a pecan pie without the pecans. The crust is lined with a layer of tart jelly to offset the sweet base of butter, eggs and sugar. Born out of thrift and ingenuity, amber pie was a classic pie found in Southern kitchens a hundred years ago.
Old-fashioned pies and family history inspired Anne to write the new cookbook Vintage Pies: Classic American Pies for Today’s Home Baker. The book features her great great grandmother’s piecrust recipe from the 1860s and forty-five vintage pies. Today I am going to share with you one of Anne’s favorites, Lemon Chess Pie.
Anne remembers family stories spilling out like flour while she and her grandmother rolled dough and trimmed crusts together. As a child she began asking everyone she met the same question: “What kind of pie did you make or eat when you were growing up?”
She would always get the best stories.
Anne collected her pie stories and recipes on notecards; pies with funny names like Tears on Your Pillow Pie, Gravel Pie and Bob Andy Pie.
One day her sister said: “You have a book” in that stack of recipe cards.
A hundred years ago women did not have much money or extra time to bake pies. They baked with common ingredients found in their pantries like butter, sugar, eggs and spices. Pies were served at all three meals of the day; packed up and taken to potlucks and family parties, weddings and funerals.
Vintage pies, like the recipe below, require simple techniques and are relatively easy to reproduce.
Don’t worry if your crust shrinks or your filling bubbles over. Anne says: “A pie’s purpose is not to be beautiful; rather, to be eaten and savored.”
So get out your rolling pin. You’ll need an unbaked piecrust and just five vintage ingredients: lemon, butter, eggs, sugar and cornmeal. Recipes for both Lemon Chess Pie and Anne’s Single Piecrust are below. And checkout the recipe for Anne’s Apple Pie. Short on time? Buy an already made pie crust and dig in to Lemon Chess Pie!Print
A “newfangled” version of chess pie, although this recipe dates back to before 1900.
- 1 unbaked piecrust
- 1 medium lemon, or ¼ cup lemon juice
- ½ cup salted butter
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
- Preheat your oven to 350° F.
- Juice the lemon, measuring out ¼ cup.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until they are light in color. Add the sugar, the butter, the cornmeal, and the lemon juice, and stir the ingredients until they are just combined.
- Pour the filling into the piecrust.
- Place the pie in the oven, and bake it until the filling is set in the middle, about 35 minutes.
From Vintage Pies: Classic American Pies for Today’s Home Baker
Printed with the permission of Anne Haynie Collins and The Countryman Press
Photos courtesy of Todd and Lisa Balfour
This will make one generous 9-inch piecrust. This universal piecrust will service all your pie fillings. Anne doesn’t chill the pie dough. She just puts it directly into her pie plate. This is the way she learned to make pies when she was 10 or 11 with her grandmother, and that’s the way grandma did it. It wasn’t until much later that Anne learned most recipes call for chilling the dough.
- 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour, plus about ½ cup for kneading and rolling dough
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 7 tablespoons lard or solid vegetable shortening
- ¼ cup cold water
- If your recipe calls for a pre-baked or partially baked crust, preheat your oven to 350° F.
- Combine the 1 cup of flour and the salt in a large bowl with a fork. Put each tablespoon of lard in a different place on top of the flour mixture. With a pastry blender or two knives, very lightly and quickly cut the lard into the flour mixture to form crumbs about the size of peas.
- Sprinkle the cold water over the top of the flour mixture. Stir the mixture with a fork until it just holds together.
- Sprinkle a flat work surface with about ¼ cup of the flour. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto the floured surface. With your fingertips, lightly and quickly knead the dough just until it’s smooth, about 15 strokes.
- Gather the dough together with your hands and form it into a ball. Flatten the ball into a thick circle.
- To roll out the dough, sprinkle the flat work surface with more flour. Place your dough on the floured surface, and then turn it over so that both sides are floured.
- Roll out the dough with your rolling pin from the center to the edge with light, even strokes. Occasionally lift the dough so it doesn’t stick to the work surface. The shape should be about 1 inch larger on all sides than the pie plate you are using and it should be ⅛ to ¼ inch thick.
- Fold the dough in half, and lift it into the pie plate. Unfold the dough, and ease it gently into the pie plate, taking care not to stretch the dough. (Stretching the dough will make the pastry shrink as it bakes, and you’ll end up with a piecrust the size of a salad plate. Trust Anne, she speaks from experience.) Press the dough onto the rim of the pie plate, and trim any overhanging bits.
- If the piecrust tears while you are putting it in the pie plate, slightly overlap the torn edges and press the tear with your fingertips to make a good seal.
- For a prebaked crust, place the pie plate in the oven, and bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes; for a partially baked crust, bake it for 7 to 10 minutes. If the bottom begins to bubble up, prick it with a fork. You can also prevent the crust from bubbling up by spreading dried beans or pie weights on it before putting it in the oven. Let it cool completely before you add the filling.
From Vintage Pies: Classic American Pies from Today’s Home Baker
Printed with permission of Anne Haynie Collins and The Countryman Press
Photos courtesy of Todd and Lisa Balfour