Virginia – Chess Pie

Today we head to Virgina to bake Chess Pie. As far as I can figure out, the earliest known recipe for this pie appeared in the cookbook “The Virginia Housewife: Or, Methodical Cook” by Mary Randolph in 1824. The recipe was titled “Transparent Pudding” and versions of this pantry pie have appeared in New England and Southern Cookbooks since the 1800’s.

There seem to be many stories about the origin of the name. Some claim chestnut flour was used in the pie, others claim that “chess” is the interpretation of a southern accent where it was named “just pie”. The “just” could have been pronounced “jes” which may have been interpreted as “chess”. Nobody seems to have the whole story.

Chess Pie is a basic pie, whose versions have morphed into the popular Derby Pie and Pecan Pie that are loved by many.

This recipe is derived from the original with a few adaptations; additions of vanilla for flavor and vinegar for stability. The making of the custard is a bit tricky – when heating try to use a medium-low flame and stir often. The lower the flame and the more stirring will result in minimizing the bits of cooked egg that appear in the final product. Not to worry too much about this, because a straining of the custard as it goes into the pie takes care of this anyway.

Chess Pie


Single-crust 9 inch pie shell (recipe below, or use a premade one if desired)

8 eggs, lightly beaten
1 c sugar
1 c butter, melted

1 t nutmeg
1 T apple cider vinegar
2 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Blind bake the pie crust: Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up during baking. Crinkle a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil over the crust and add pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust at 350 F for 15 minutes. Remove beans or weights and bake for 15 minutes more. The crust should be a light golden brown. Set crust aside while you make the filling.

For the filling: add eggs, sugar and butter to a medium saucepan. Whisk continually while heating the mixture over medium low heat. The custard will become thick. The more you whisk the filling while it is baking, the fewer bits of cooked egg that you will see. I think it is almost impossible to not have any bits, but we will strain them out after cooking. Alternatively, you could use a double boiler for this step, but that will take more time to get the custard to temperature. It should take about 15 minutes to get to the custard thick, just be patient and keep whisking! After the custard is thick (temp 160-165 F), remove from heat and add in the vinegar, vanilla and nutmeg. Mix completely and then strain the custard into the pie shell. Bake the pie at 350 F for 30 minutes. It is best served slightly warm, but is also good at room temperature.

Single Crust for a 9-inch pie

1/2 c butter, chilled and cut into small (ie 1/2 inch) pieces.
1 1/4 c flour
1/2 t salt
3-5 T ice water (amount depends on humidity)

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse flour and salt. Add butter and mix until the butter is the size of peas (this takes about 20-30 pulses). With the food processor running, add the water through the feed tube 1 T at a time until the dough comes together. Flatten to a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll dough out to a 9 inch circle (it will be about 3/8 inch or 4 mm thick) and fit into pie pan.

Chess Pie recipe adapted from a recipe for “Transparent Pie” in the “The Virginia Housewife: Or, Methodical Cook” by Mary Randolph