The diner in question was in Alabama, or Kentucky, or Arkansas (depending on who’s telling the story), but wherever the locale, this classic Southern pie supposedly got its name from a waitress who, when asked by a customer about the rich pie, responded, “Oh, honey, it’s jes’ pie.” Another anecdote traces chess pie back to an eighteenth-century English “cheese pie,” and still another links it with a chest in a Southern kitchen where confections were once stored. Whatever the origins of the name, I’ve eaten chess pie in every Southern state (and nowhere else), sometimes made with plain granulated sugar and flour instead of cornmeal, enriched even more with heavy cream instead of milk or buttermilk, and flavored with everything from coconut to cider vinegar to multiple spices (in which case the pie almost becomes a Jefferson Davis Pie). Feel free to experiment in any way you choose.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, butter, buttermilk, lemon juice, vanilla, brown sugar, cornmeal, and salt and beat with an electric mixer till well blended and smooth. Add the lemon zest and stir till well blended. Scrape the mixture into the pie shell and
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