Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cherry Chess Pie and Raspberry Chess Pie

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this pleasant late-spring interlude: a segment on two unusual chess pies.

If you live below the Mason-Dixon line, you've probably eaten your share, or more than you'd like to admit, of any of a number of delicious chess pies and their relatives the transparent pie, the Jeff Davis pie, and so on. Plain chess pie, lemon chess pie, chocolate chess pie...all of them luscious, sugar-custardy, rich but not too rich.

Photo: the raspberry chess pie in preparation. The pie shell is ready, the sugar base is mixed, and the green and brown araucana eggs, size medium, will be broken and beaten in with the sugar, the custard poured into the pie shell, and the berries carefully stirred in. I needed only half the berries. Hooray! Some for cereal...

I read long ago that the term "chess pie" was a corruption of an English cheese pie dish, but chess pie contains no cheese at all. It's a mixture of sugars, flour, melted butter, well-beaten eggs, and flavorings, poured into a single-crust pie shell and baked until the custard is set and the top perhaps a tad browned.

A Cherry Chess Pie for Curte Senior's 80th Birthday

Last Sunday dawned gorgeously clear and fresh, and promised a fine Father's Day, for having a picnic and celebrating my husband's Dad's 80th birthday.

Pie cherries were in season at the Farmer's Market, I found when the twins and I visited around noon-time, and we were lucky to get some. These were small red cherries, so tart! Perfect for a pie, perfect for a gift to a gentleman who knew and enjoyed homegrown produce so very well.

I'd planned your basic deep-dish cherry pie, but on looking in an old favorite cookbook, titled The Gold Cookbook, by Master Cheff Louis P. De Gouy, an enormous tome of French and regional American cooking, dated 1947, the only cherry pie he listed was for a cherry chess pie. Not familiar with such a beast, I read it, thought it sounded mighty tasty, and proceeded to make the pie. After spattering my new shirt and the breakfast tabletop with cherry juice from stoning each cherry, of course.

The pie made up easily, baked well, set well, and traveled well out to Spindletop in the countryside for the picnic. Mighty tasty it was too, as we all agreed. Hint of tartness in the cherries, not oversweet, hint of honey, of all things, too.

Here then is the recipe, straight from The Gold Cookbook, page 945:

Cherry Chess Pie
Pit one quart of sour cherries after first washing them quickly in cold water then draining well. Mix 2 tablespoons of flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup honey*, a pinch of salt, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter or margerin (sic). Stir in 3 well-beaten eggs with a pinch of salt and add the cherries. Pour into an unbaked pie shell and bake in a hot oven (450 F.) for 12 minutes to set the pie and crust; reduce the heat to 350 F. and continue baking for 20 minutes longer, or until set. Cool and serve with a whipped cream topping.

*I used mellow sourwood honey.

The pie crust: I use my standby crust from my mother's Good Housekeeping Cookbook from the late 40s or early 50s: 2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt; cut in 3/4 cup of butter or shortening; add 4-6 tablespoons ice water bit by bit, and blend until the mixture starts following the fork around and forms a ball. Roll out and line an ungreased pie shell with it.

A Raspberry Chess Pie Variation

My raspberries are ripe! A few tastes last week of early berries made us all happy, and I expected a similar slim picking today, but was rather shocked to find the patch loaded. I did two pickings today, yielding perhaps a quart and a half. Not bad for a small patch in town.

Wanting to make something special, and not being in the mood for a tart, I went back to the chess pie theme, replacing the cherries with the raspberries, and leaving out the cinnamon.

We shall see! It should be done in a moment and tomorrow morning in fresh light I will photograph it...

Photo: the raspberry chess pie has been tasted.

...Tomorrow arrived and here are the results of the taste test: well, it's pretty good! The chess flavor and raspberry flavor are nice together, if not outstanding. However, I think a tart with a cream cheese or sour cream filling might take better advantage of the raspberry flavor.

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