Monday, June 17, 2013

Lemon Chess and Chocolate Chess Pies

Day 38

While we were visiting and my Aunt Sarah and her family on a recent trip back home, she shared my great-grandmother Sara’s Lemon Chess Pie recipe with me. We had just finished burgers on the grill and Sarah’s old-fashioned macaroni salad, and we were enjoying an apple-themed dessert of German Apple Cake and Apple Pie. I suppose it was the pie that prompted our discussion of my great-grandmother’s baking talents. Aunt Sarah asked if I’d ever tried the Lemon Chess, and I admitted that I had never tried it, although I do remember trying chocolate chess pies that both of my grandmothers made from time to time. So, needless to say, I was very excited to learn that Aunt Sarah had the original recipe.
Copyright 2013, Doug Kapustin Photography
My father and Aunt Sarah had always told me that my great-grandmother—Mama Sara, we called her—was known for a few of her pie recipes, of which Lemon Chess was considered the best. According to Daddy, Mama Sara rarely left the comforts of home, always preferring to stay indoors, baking and following a very simple daily routine. He used to tell me stories of her apple chip pies, for which she would chop apples all morning until the pieces were literally tiny chips, the width of matchsticks. I can’t imagine having that sort of patience for baking, though I do admire her attention to detail. 

She taught my grandmother, her daughter-in-law, to make a pie called Poor Man’s Pie, that was essentially a pecan pie with oatmeal instead of pecans. It was absolutely one of my favorites, and I’ll share that recipe in a future blog too. Hearing stories of Mama Sara makes me nostalgic for family cooked meals and for the days when my grandmother, Dorothy, made meals for us. Everything tasted better from her kitchen. In fact, my cousins, Cassye and Rose, would often join me at Grandma’s for summer vacation, and we each made a specific request from her kitchen: Cassye requested her sweetened bran muffins, Rose asked for her gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, and I always begged Grandma to make her buttery potato soup. Just thinking about those three dishes, lovingly prepared for her grandchildren, makes my mouth water, still today. 

 A couple of days after returning to my home in Maryland, I simply had to try the Lemon Chess recipe. True to Aunt Sarah’s promise, it was delicious; I can definitely see why everyone asked Mama Sara to make it again and again, for church suppers and family get-togethers. 

While I was gathering the ingredients to make it, I decided to make a Chocolate Chess pie to accompany the Lemon Chess, mostly to pay homage to the recipes of both my great-grandmother and my two grandmothers. I quickly learned that Chocolate Chess pie tends to crack rather easily if not perfectly cooked, but even still, the flavor is unmatched. Needless to say, the Lemon Chess was a bigger hit—a real tried and true recipe. Both pies offer a creaminess that immediately comforts and soothes the palate. 

Both of these recipes—Mama Sara’s Lemon Chess and a standard Chocolate Chess—are shared below. I hope you enjoy this tribute to special family recipes—recipes of old and new.  

And alas, here’s to you, Aunt Sarah, and thanks for sharing such a treasured recipe!

Lemon Chess Pie

1½ cups granulated sugar
1 stick of melted butter
1 tbs. lemon juice
1 tbs. apple cider vinegar
3 eggs
¼ cup whole milk
zest of one lemon, optional
1 9-inch pie crust—homemade or store bought (see below*)

Melt butter. Beat in sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, beaten eggs, and milk. Pour into 9-inch unbaked piecrust. Bake at 350 degrees until just set in center, about 45 minutes. Cool completely before slicing. 

*For a homemade pie crust, try Ina Garten’s recipe. It’s easy and perfect every time. Here’s the link:

Chocolate Chess Pie

1½ cups granulated sugar
3 tbs. cocoa powder
3 eggs
1 small can (5 oz) evaporated milk 
¼ cup melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. instant coffee
½ tsp. cinnamon
1- 9 inch unbaked pie crust—homemade or store bought (see above*)

Mix sugar and cocoa together. Beat eggs and add to sugar/cocoa mixture. Beat in milk, butter, vanilla, coffee, and cinnamon. 

Pour into piecrust and bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely before slicing. 


  1. This sounds yummy...will need to try this one. It is fat free, right?