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Our pies are classic Southern desserts, except for an apple pie too good to leave up North. We make them all “from scratch,” a term I wondered about and looked up — it comes from sports, when a starting line for a race was literally scratched in the dirt. So making a pie from scratch means you start at the very beginning with essential ingredients and no pre-made anything. That’s how we do it. Now let’s talk about the pies.
Fresh Lime Chess
Why “chess” pie? Nobody knows for sure, but here are some theories: the Southern drawl rendered “just pie” as “jes’ pie,” which became chess pie. Or maybe the sugary pies kept so well at room temperature in pie safes or pie chests, they became known as “chest pies” and the “t” got lost in soft Southern speech. How ever the name evolved, the pie’s four basic ingredients—cornmeal, butter, sugar, and eggs —lend themselves beautifully to added flavors. Some cooks swear by nutmeg, cinnamon or lemon juice. We give our chess pie a little edge with fresh-squeezed lime juice and a generous sprinkling of lime zest.
Crème brulee’s country cousin, buttermilk pie is similar to chess pie, but without the cornmeal. The buttermilk gives the velvety custard filling a little zip of tartness, the perfect counterfoil for the buttery richness of this not-too-sweet dessert. Oh, and a dash of Mexican vanilla perfumes the entire concoction.
I subscribe to the theory that pecan pie was invented by the French in New Orleans soon after they discovered the South’s native pecans. Certainly pralines originated in France and it’s a short step from praline to pecan pie. We’re lucky to be in S.A. where many pecan-shelling companies have operated for decades (shout out to Emma Tenayuca). We buy the freshest, richest, most flavorful pecans they’ve got to make (we’ve been told) the best pecan pie in the city.
Mrs. Appleyard’s Apple with Currants
Louise Andrews Kent (1886 – 1969) was a Vermonter who wrote children’s books, newspaper columns and, as Mrs. Appleyard, cookbooks in the 1930s and 1940s. Some of the cookbooks are still in print and are delightful — full of good “plain cooking” recipes and warm, intelligent commentary on Vermont life. We follow her recipe faithfully for classic sweet/tart fruit pie studded with piquant currants and wrapped up not-too-neatly in a good, flaky crust. Have a cup of coffee with that.