Lemon Chess Pie


The first time I remember hearing of a chess pie was as a little girl at my grandmother’s house. There was this pie on their dining room table and my grandparents and their friends had practically swarmed it until there was only a tiny piece left. Fortuantely, that piece went to me.

A thick, custardy textured pie, chess pie has long been associated with southern cuisine. No one quite agrees on the actual origins of the name except for the fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with the game of chess (We’ve always been more checkers type folks down here anyway). One theory is that since this pie kept so well in a common piece of furniture known as a pie safe or pie chest, they simply named it after that (we do have a tendency to drop our T’s – gotta love the drawl!). Another theory is around the time the pie was invented, it did not have a name and when the cook was asked what kind it was, she simply replied “Its ‘ches pie” (which is southern for “It’s just pie”).

Either way, chess pie is just a good old fashioned dessert. Lemon chess pie is my personal favorite. I like to make it with my mix in the pan pie crust for a total old fashioned, simple but good experience.

Lets hear it for simplicity! All you need is margarine, eggs, lemons, and sugar! I have used lemon juice on occasion when I didn’t want to fuss with lemons or didn’t have them on hand.

Zesting is not my strong suit. Still, I put up a valiant effort for this pie. Zest your lemons.
I ended up just using two because I decided after I got started that my lemons were, in fact, large. Beforehand, I had thought they were small, which meant I needed three. I refuse to comment on whether or not I decided these were large when I got tired of zesting after two of them.
My lemon zestings were kinda big so I chopped them up a bit.
Put your lemon zestings and your lemon juice in a bowl.
You know I need to do dishes when we start pulling out the Dora bowl. I did arrange the lemon so she could still peep out and watch our tutorial. Dora, Dora, Dora the explorer!!! Sing with me!!
Place butter and sugar in mixing bowl. Beat until light and fluffy.
Separate eggs. This is separating the clear part (egg white) from the yellow part (yolk). You can just buy an egg separator to do this but I just kind of crack my egg in half and hold the part with the yolk in it steady, then if you tilt it just a little the white will just plop right off into your bowl or cup. You need to be careful here, though. We are going to be whipping these egg whites and if you have any of the yellow part in them, they won’t whip up right.
There you go, I have a cup of yolks and a cup of whites.
Add yolks to sugar and butter mixture. Mix well.
Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula and pour in lemon juice and zest.
I am using my little spatula with the hearts on it that I bought on Valentine’s Day. I love my rubber spatulas…if I ever get famous or anything, I want folks to throw spatulas at my feet instead of roses!
A bouquet of spatulas! A SWARM of spatulas!
The spatula industry would love and adore me!! I just umm…doubt I’ll get famous when my only motivation to do so is just to get free spatulas. ~sigh~
In a separate bowl, add egg whites. Using clean beaters, mix them on medium to high speed until almost stiff…
hang on because you know I’m about to show you what that looks like.
And we’re off!
There, these are “almost stiff”. Another way to say that is until “soft peaks form”. Here is how you tell…pull you beaters straight up. Little points will come up with them. If they fall back down like they do in this photograph, those are soft peaks. If you were going for stiff peaks, they would remain standing up straight when you pulled your beaters out.
(I just re-read the recipe and it actually said to beat them until stiff, not almost stiff. I’ve had a headache all day and am going to blame that for “selective reading”. Good news is, almost stiff worked out just fine!)
Pour your egg whites into the mixing bowl with the batter. They will just slip right on in.
Fold them in with your spatula until well incorporated.
Pour that into your baked pie crust.
Like this! Now bake that at 350 until golden and set, twenty five to thirty minutes.
Lemon Chess Pie
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • Grated rind and juice of two large or three small lemons
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 pie crust (baked)
  1. Cream sugar with butter until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks. Add grated lemon rind and juice, beat in. Beat egg whites in a separate bowl (with clean beaters) until stiff and lightly fold in. Pour into pie shell and bake at 350 until set and light, about twenty five to thirty minutes.

Thanks for reading Southern Plate!!!!



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  1. Mary Jo says

    You need a microplane for your zesting. They might be a tad expensive but worth it. My favorite is lemon meringue pie but I am going to try this using Splenda baking substitute since I am a diabetic.

  2. says

    Ditto on the microplane graters — love them! Pie looks fabulous, definitely love anything lemony. You reminded me of that old (bad) movie, ‘Spatula City.’ At least that’s what I think it was called. For years, my kids (now grown) used to quote it to me, “What better way to say I love you than with a spatula?”, and my daughter gave me one for mother’s day. Still makes me laugh.

  3. Scott says

    Hi there. I’m excited to try your recipe. Lemon Chess is one of my favorite pie from back when I was a kid. I’m curious about one thing. Your recipe calls for an already baked pie crust. I’m wondering why that is? Just to make the finished pie nice an brown around the edges? Or does it make a difference in the way the pie sets? Also, several of the recipes that I’ve seen have called for corn starch, either in the filling or sprinkled into the pie shell before pouring in the filling. I’m assuming this is to thicken up the filling and help it set. I was just wondering if anyone had ever tried either of those options, and if so, what you thought. Thanks for the recipe, and the nice walk through and photos. It’s nice to have a little personality in addition to the instructions.

  4. says

    I enjoy your website so much, thanks to a friend. It brings such happy thoughts of my Mom who was a wonderful cook and so many of your recipes are like hers exactly . It must just be the Tenn. Valley moms who can cook like this, she lived in Florence. The chess pie looks wonderful. Thanks and keep them coming

  5. Debbie Strum says

    According to Southern Living Magazine, Classic Chess Pie calls for twice as much sugar, salt, milk, vinegar and vanilla..basides corn meal and flour. HowEVER, again according to SLM, Lemon Chess pie (which is the pie Christy is speaking of here) does NOT require corn meal or flour. Besides (adds with a wink) Christy is all about making it good AND simple and so, I am gonna make my first Lemon Chess Pie today and I’m proud to say I’ll be using Christy’s family recipe!

  6. Just Jess says

    The taste was AMAZING! I was so pleased with this recipe. I’ve been craving it ever since I finished the last slice. I chose this recipe because cornmeal and vinegar did not sound good to me, even if it is more authentic. I made this recipe for New Year’s Eve and dusted the top with powdered sugar to give it a snowy appearance. I used a gluten free crust from Whole Foods, the bake time was about 5 minutes longer in my oven. I highly recommend this one! It’s easy and delish!

  7. Debbie says

    I have never heard of chess pie (showing my northern background here) but I love any pies with that custard, pudding, cream type filling and this looks wonderful! I will have to try it very soon and now I know what to call those kind of pies :)

  8. linda says

    can’t wait to try this.never thought of a lemon chess pie. have tried chocolate. is it right you will be having a new cookbook out soon and if so when can we be looking for it?

  9. Debra Dian Turner says

    I was welcomed to the little town of Needville, Tx by a little Chek neighbor lady who brought us a picnic to welcome us to our new home.She made fried chicken, german potato salad, some pickled beets and a Lemon chess Pie made just like yours. It was the first (but not the last by any means) lemon Chess Pie I had ever eaten, I was hooked. she invited me down to show me how easy this pie was…lovely lady who made delightful Kolaches and homemade sauerkraut. Ever since then Lemon Chess pie has been great comfort food
    ( good food that calls us great memories= comfort food!)

  10. Joyce Oliver says

    Ms. Christie
    I am sending you this message to use as future reference when making this pie. Today is the first day of making it. I did so by reading and following the tutorial rather than following the recipe. When I finished and had pie in oven I was looking over the recipe to save when I noticed the amount of butter as being 4 tablespoons. Looking back at the tutorial it looks as if you have a whole stick of butter in with the sugar which would total 8 tablespoons. I know pictures can be deceiving on things like this when viewing. I am wondering if my eyes are deceiving me, or if in fact you do have a whole stick of butter and whether it will affect the outcome of the pie. Thank you in advance for responding to clear this up for me. Your recipes are wonderful. Have a nice day.
    Joyce Oliver

  11. Kolene says

    I want to give you a tip.
    When separating egg yolks from the whites, take an empty 16 oz. water bottle, crack whole egg into a bowl. Squeeze the bottle over the yolk, sucks the yolk right out! Drop yolk into another bowl. Quick and easy!!! No mess.
    Thank you for all your short cuts, recipes, stories, and scriptures! I wanted to give back to you!!!


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