Lemon Chess Pie

I found and adapted this recipe from the now closed Charl-Mont Restaurant in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was originally printed in the late 1950s and has the same bright yellow color I usually associate with retro refrigerators. Now, if you’ve never heard of a chess pie, you are missing out. The recipe for this Southern dessert was originally brought over from England and landed in Virginia. And no, sorry to report that the pie does not look like a chess board or involve bishops or knights in the preparation. Some say it has to do with the piece of furniture that pies were placed in to cool and for storage, called a pie “chest”. Others say that because the recipe is so simple it was called “just” pie, and with English speakers being who we are, morphed the word into the much less strenuous to say “chess” over the years. But perhaps the first person to make it back in old-timey England was in fact playing chess and accidentally dropped a pawn into their freshly baked pie? Well, rats! I guess we’ll never know.


– 1 3/4 cups sugar

– 1 tbsp all-purpose flour

– 1 tbsp cornmeal

– 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

– 1/4 cup milk

– 4 eggs

– 2 tbsp grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon’s worth)

– 1 lemon, juiced

– 1 unbaked 9 inch pie crust (pre-made is perfectly fine, but i’ll include an easy recipe for one following this)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Zest, then juice the lemon and set aside. Combine sugar, flour, and cornmeal. Beat in eggs, then add milk, zest, juice, and butter. Beat well. Pour mixture into prepared pie crust, then place in oven for 35 minutes with foil covering the exposed edges of crust. Remove foil, then bake for another 5-10 minutes. If you so choose, smother in whipped cream and dig in!

Quick Crust

– 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

– 1/4 tsp salt

– 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

– 1/4 cup cold water

Combine flour and salt in  a bowl. Add butter pieces and using a pastry cutter or your hands combine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water by the teaspoon until the dough forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and chill overnight, or at least 4 hours. Roll out into a 9 inch circle and press into pie pan.


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