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Lemon Chess Pie

February 12, 2010

Lemon Chess Pie

For the second weekend in a row Zach and I (and the rest of the metro D.C. area) were trapped at home due to a weather event that has been dubbed by various sources as a snowpocalypse, snowmageddon, snOMG, snoverkill and my favorite – snoverit.

Thanks to my recent medical event I have become all too familiar with what happens to the psyche when forced to stay at home for an extended period of time. And just as I was given the thumbs up to return to work and (Hallelujah!) drive again, the snow began to fall and my parole therefore, denied.

Being snowed in together has a romantic appeal to it. I baked, baked and baked, we watched movies and enjoyed having nothing to do other than spend time together. But let’s be honest, after Day 5 the tide begins to shift. Zach had a backache and calloused hands thanks to his new best friend the snow shovel. I was forced to the floor with a towel each time he came in and out, the snow and salt wreaking havoc on our precious hardwood floors. And as our frustration at the outside world peaked, we began to turn on each other. “How did you eat all the peanut butter already?!” “I can’t watch any more of your cooking shows!” “You’re not going to shower today?”

We were living our own hellish version of Groundhog Day.

January was a challenging month in our world of marriage. Major health events have a way of pushing you far far away from each other and pulling you close together simultaneously. But February has been no walk in the park either. Be it weather or recovery, there has been much standing in the way of getting the life we love back. And as much as I love spending time with my husband, it’s who we are “out there” and the time we don’t spend together that makes the time we do, all the more valuable.

So at the peak of the insanity, Zach turned to the basement and hip hop and I turned to Lemon Chess Pie. Its bright flavor offers the promise of warmer months, sunshine, grilling out and a swift return to a routine life that I adore.

Lemon Chess Pie

Adapted from Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies

I included the crust recipe here because I think I’ve found my new staple. Mrs. Rowe’s version calls for all shortening but I like the flavor butter imparts. So I went half and half and scored a crust high in flavor and flaky in texture. The vinegar acts as a stabilizer making this crust dummy proof. For the filling, I reduced the amount of sugar and increased the lemon juice from Mrs. Rowe’s original as I prefer a less sweet, more tart pie.


For the crust (makes 2, 9 inch crusts)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup plus 1/2 Tb shortening, cold & diced

1/2 cup plus 1/2 Tb unsalted butter, cold & diced

1 1/2 tsps white vinegar

1 large egg, lightly beaten

4-6 Tbs ice water

1. In the bowl of a food processor, sift together the flour and salt. Pulse lightly to combine. Add the shortening and butter and pulse until it is the size of peas. Add the vinegar, egg and just enough ice water to moisten. Pulse until the dough just comes together.

2. Divide the dough into two equal balls, flatten into discs, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill. Dough will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness and place in your pie dish. Crimp edges, line with parchment and fill with dried beans, rice or pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes, remove beans and return to the oven for another 8 minutes or until lightly golden.

For the lemon chess filling

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 Tb cornmeal

Juice from 2 medium lemons (aprx. 4-5 Tbs)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and whisk in the sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time and then stir in the cornmeal. Add the lemon juice and stir to combine well. Pour into the parbaked crust.

2. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the filling is a deep golden brown. If the crust begins to overbrown, cover edges with foil or a pie guard. Cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2010 1:20 am

    Glad you featured this pie, which is super simple to make. I noticed that in the crust, not only did you change half the fat to butter, but you also use almost a half cup more fat by volume than is called for in the LBOSP recipe. (about 17 TBS, as opposed to about 11.) I use the standard recipe but use half and half regular and butter flavored shortening. The German chocolate pie in LBOSP is also a real good one. I like your blog for the stuff you feature and your writing style as well, especially since you live in the DC area, where I lived many years ago, during childhood. I’m the head cook at a restaurant here in Oregon, and we feature a lot of Southern food, including Mrs. Rowe’s pies. On a trip through the south not long ago,I had the opportunity to visit the restaurant, and was pleased to see the place from whence the book came. Keep up the good work!

  2. February 14, 2010 2:06 am


    So glad you’re enjoying the blog and even happier to hear Mrs. Rowe lives on in Oregon! I grew up in Richmond and went to college in the Shenandoah Valley very close to the original restaurant. This kind of cooking is very near and dear to my heart to say the least. The German Chocolate has been on my list to try so it’s great to know you endorse. Take care and thanks again for reading!

  3. February 15, 2010 5:21 pm

    So glad to know that you like the Lemon Chess pie in the book. What a great pie to eat in the middle of a winter snow storm. Cheers!

  4. February 15, 2010 5:28 pm

    Hi Mollie – Thanks so much for visiting the site. What an honor to hear from the author herself! LBOSP has become one of my favorite cookbooks thanks to your diligence in putting it together. Take care!

  5. Beverly Zimmerman permalink
    February 20, 2010 3:27 pm

    I made a chess pie MANY years ago–and loved it !!!!

    Have you tried “Ansons’grits or Carolina rice”??? We had them in the South with the local tiny shrimp, and they were SO good (I was new to grits) That when we got home (and no one up north knew anything about Ansons’ so I got them on the internet WOW!!! It’s worth the effort !!!

  6. February 20, 2010 7:41 pm

    I have had Anson’s before but have never actually tackled grits at home, though I love them. Good to know they are worth tracking down!

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