It all starts with a pie crust. At least that was what I had been told. I’ve actually had no personal experience.
This was the day that I had not been looking forward to. Not really dreading, but, just not looking forward to it. I’m one of those who believes that you fall into one of two camps (cooking wise that is). Either you’re a savory person or a sweet person. I happen to think I’m sweet too, but, savory is my hands down choice. For dessert, if I have the choice between a nice wedge of triple cream French Brie or a slice of cake. I’m going fromage every time. No question about it.
That takes me to today. A few weeks back, Nancie McDermott, the author of Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes From Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan, sent me a copy of her new cookbook. Now is the the time to review the previous paragraph. Dessert, not my thing. The book however made the pies look amazing. Awesome photography, great history and explanations of the various types plus a wide assortment of pies to make. I had to give one a try. It’s my job, really.
I have cooked a ton of things in my life. But, I have NEVER made a pie. NEVER! This should be a real test of both the instructive powers of Nancie’s book and my ability not to screw up a great recipe.
Reading through the book I was curiously drawn to the section on chess pies. I hadn’t even heard of a chess pie before opening this book up. But, here was an entire chapter on the history, legend and proper construction of twelve chess pies. My choices were narrowed, it was a chess for sure.
Which one? I checked them all out. For a minute I thought my pie making fortunes would be linked with the Transparent Pie. What a cool name, If this pie was half as awesome as the name, it would be a hit for sure. But, after reading over a few more possibilities, it became clear that my lot would be cast with Leah Chase’s Lemon Chess Pie. It was decided.
Let the cooking/baking/making begin! I assembled all of the necessary ingredients and got to work. The first decision I was faced with was which type of crust to use. There are recipes in this book for making your own crust, but, Nancie says it’s OK to use a store bought crust. Which do think I would choose? Store bought, that’s right. I had enough on my plate (so to speak) without the anxiety of having to whip up a homemade pie crust.
Time to do it! I combined all of the filling ingredients in the prescribed manner and order. Easy so far. What was I so worried about? I filled up my certainly inferior, store bought pie crust and popped it in the oven, set a timer and crossed my fingers.
It says 35 to 45 minutes baking time. I started checking it around 30 minutes. The last thing I wanted to do at this point was burn the thing. I kept an eye on it and took it out right at the end of the cooking time range. It looked awesome!
The directions were right on. I could not believe how easy this was. What was I thinking the past several decades? The cooling time seemed like forever. I wanted a piece of my new creation right now! It took about an hour or so to cool to room temperature. Now the moment of truth…
It was good! Really. I’m not just saying that because I cooked it (even though I know it sounds that way). It was good. Sweet, lemony and a little bit crunchy from the cornmeal. I had a little trouble keeping the crust from sticking to the bottom of the pan, but, I’m guessing that was more my fault than the recipe. If I had gone the extra mile and made my own crust, it probably would have taken care of that.
Here’s how to do it.
1 9” pie crust
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, well beaten
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 evaporated milk
2 teaspoons lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine sugar, cornmeal, flour and salt in a medium size mixing bowl. mix thoroughly with a fork. Add in the eggs, butter, lemon juice, evaporated milk, and lemon rind. Mix well until it’s really thick and smooth. I used a fork and a rubber spatula.
Pour mixture into your pie crust and place in the oven on the bottom rack. Start checking on it at about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven when the pie is fairly firm and wiggles only a little when the tin is nudged. Place on a rack to cool to room temperature.
The Bottom Line
Nancie McDermott’s book, Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes From Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan really hits the mark. It’s fun and informative to read and contains lots of great pie recipes. If you know someone who is a baker this would make a nice addition to their collection. If you know someone who is not a baker (like me), this is a fantastic place to start.
Publisher: Chronicle Books