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Old 01-19-2003, 03:25 PM
Hoopy Frood Hoopy Frood is offline
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Chicago, IL
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How did "chess pie" get its name.

Every Christmas, my father-in-law makes a chocolate chess pie. (My in-laws live in the Chicago area, but are transplants from Tennessee. Most of their extended family live there.) For those unfamiliar with it, chess pie is traditionally a pie crust with a simple filling of eggs, sugar, butter, and a little flour. Often times vinegar is included, along with flavorings such as vanilla, lemon juice, and chocolate. (My FIL adds vinegar, chocolate, and vanilla to his.)

My question is where did the name come from. I asked my FIL and he had know idea. My wife said that she heard a story where some woman made the dessert for her husband, and he asked her what it was. The response from the woman in a thick southern drawl was "It's jes' pie." The "jes" got misunderstood by the man as "chess" and hence the name was born. This sounded way to farfetched, so I figured I'd look around online. Just as I suspected it seems to suffer from "hoosier-itis." No one really seems to know what it means.

Some think it's a corruption of cheese, referring to English lemon curd pie, of which the filling bears a close resemblance. Supposedly southern cookbooks used to describe pies with curdlike textures as cheesecakes or cheese pies, even if they contained no cheese.

Another theory is that it's a corruption of "chest." The story goes that the pies contained so much sugar that they could be stored in a "pie chest" (or "pie safe") without spoiling, rather than a refigerator, where most pies needed to be kept.

The last theory I found also relates to England, but this time it derives its name from the town of Chester, England.

So does anyone know what the actual origins are, or is it just one of those words whose etymology has been lost in the past.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I websurfed, weak and weary, Over many a strange and spurious website of 'hot chicks galore',
While I clicked my fav'rite bookmark, suddenly there came a warning, And my heart was filled with mourning,
mourning for my dear amour. "'Tis not possible!" I muttered, "Give me back my cheap hardcore!"
Quoth the server: "404".
Old 01-19-2003, 03:50 PM
mangeorge mangeorge is offline
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Location: Berkeley, CA
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My ex in-laws, from Oklahoma, pronounce it "jess pie". Never seen it written down 'till now. I always took it to be "just pie". It's like pecan pie, but without pecans.
I prefer a nice cheesecake.
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Old 01-19-2003, 04:29 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Currently, no one knows the true derivation of the name.

Barry Popik has found a cite that takes it back to 1882.

The 'just pie' idea is almost certainly fanciful and not true.

I would suggest the "cheese" theory is in first place.
Old 01-19-2003, 05:51 PM
astro astro is offline
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Chess Pie?

The origin of chess pie remains uncertain. The most plausible and generally accepted origin of the name is this. Chess Pie was originally a cake or a tart of light pastry containing cheese. Over the years, the cheese disappeared from the recipe, but the word 'chess,' a corruption of the word 'cheese,' has remained in the name to this day.
History of Pies

Chess Pie – Chess pies are a Southern specialty that has a simple filling of eggs, sugar, butter, and a small amount of flour. Some recipes include cornmeal and others are made with vinegar. Flavorings, such as vanilla, lemon juice, or chocolate are also added to vary the basic recipe.

History: The origin of the name is uncertain, but there are plenty of guesses and a bit of folklore surrounding the name.

(1) One explanation suggests that the word is “chest,” pronounced with a drawl and used to describe these pies baked with so much sugar they could be stored in a pie chest rather than refrigerated.

(2) Another story is about the plantation cook who was asked what she was baking that smelled so great - “Jes’ pie” was her answer.

(3) Some people theorize that since the English lemon curd pie filling is very close to lemon chess pie, and they believe the word “chess” is an Americanization of the English word “cheese,” referring to curd pie.
Old 01-19-2003, 06:42 PM
mangeorge mangeorge is offline
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Berkeley, CA
Posts: 14,089
From England, huh? Maybe so. I do think, though, that a lot of southern tradition came by way of German immigrants. Of course that doesn't rule out "cheese pie".
Are there no southerners here?
Old 01-19-2003, 07:16 PM
Cillasi Cillasi is offline
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 815
My mom calls it "milk pie" or "poor mans' custard." As she is decendant from Mennonites from mid-western Pennsylvania (Swiss/German ancestry), a German connection is likely.

I've never heard it called chess pie or any of the variations given here.
Old 01-22-2003, 12:15 PM
Max Carnage Max Carnage is offline
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Location: Dumpsville. Pop. :You
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Mmmmmmmmm...Chess Pie!

Nashvillian checking in, but I have no clue where the name comes from. The thought of it ever contain cheese makes me kinda queezy. Come to think of it, I'm not a big fan of lemon or vinegar in mine either. It's got it's own unique flavor, very sweet with a nice texture. I used to think of it as pecan pie without the pecans, but pecan pie is more...syrupy?

I was once thoroughly disgusted at being served a custard pie while under the impression I was getting chess. Same color, but the custard had more of a scrambled-egg texture and a nasty flavor. Actually I may have liked it if I'd hadn't been thinking 'chess.' Like when you go to sip your iced tea, but you're thinking "Coke." You like tea but it'll throw you for a loop.

So in summary...I don't know where the word comes from. But I did wanna speak up as a southerner, for the benefit of mangeorge.
Old 01-22-2003, 01:28 PM
bup bup is offline
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I have a hard time accepting that "chess" is a corruption of the word "cheese," especially in the South, where I would expect a word to get longer, if anything ("What's that?" "Chee-yuzz pah."). I don't claim to be an expert on linguistics, though.

Pluck yew.
Old 01-22-2003, 01:29 PM
bup bup is offline
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: glenview,il,usa
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German ancestry - I have an easier time believing it's a corruption of 'Kase'. Kase, um, pie.

There's still the problem of chess pie not having cheese in it.
Old 01-22-2003, 07:45 PM
OxyMoron OxyMoron is offline
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Location: New York City Boy
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Texan checking in. There's quite a German population in Central Texas, where my mother grew up. So much so that my not-at-all german grandfather says "Zies du?" to mean "Get it?" (embarrassingly, until I was in my 20s I thought it was Spanish). But I never heard of chess pie until I was in my teens, and tasted one that a nice lady from North Carolina had made. It was a lemon chess pie and I still have the recipe. Great stuff.

I buy the "cheese" corruption, and it may not have anything to do with cheese as we know the term. See, just as there are fruit butters (which contain no butter), there are fruit cheeses (which contain no cheese). Basically, you just cook a butter down even longer until it's thick enough almost to slice. The texture is not that far off from what a thick lemon curd gets to be, so I'm suspecting that might be the link.

I think it's more common in England. From the BBC: "Note: Apple cheese is sometimes confused with apple butter. The only difference between the two is that fruit cheese are cooked to a firmer consistency than butters, otherwise they are identical. " Link

Alternately, there are sweet cheese pies, based on cottage cheese - rather like a cheese danish.


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