Recipe: Lemon Chess Pie

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No one is sure where the name or recipe for “chess pie” comes from, but it’s not related to the game of chess. (Read more about the possible origins of chess pie at Wikipedia.) It’s a traditional dessert in the American South. In fact, people outside of the South sometimes haven’t heard of it! It’s really delicious, but extremely sweet. You should make sure to cut the pie into at least 8 pieces, maybe 12, and share with your friends. My favorite kind of chess pie is lemon chess pie, because the lemon flavor makes it taste more balanced. It’s also very pretty–here are some photos of lemon chess pies at Flickr.

These instructions use American measurements, which are not weight-based. (Many American professional chefs use weight-based measurements–e.g., grams–but few home cooks do.) The Metric Kitchen: Conversion Basics explains how to convert the measurements and temperatures to metric systems. If you’re not in the US and you don’t want to do conversions, you may be able to buy American measuring cups and spoons at a specialty cooking store or international store.

If you live outside of North America, some of the ingredients might need to be bought at a specialty grocery store aimed at international residents. In America recipes, “milk” always means cow’s milk unless specified otherwise. “Eggs” means chicken eggs. A “pinch” of something is a very small amount, like if you just took a little bit of salt between your thumb and index finger.

Common American cooking measurement abbreviations:
C = cup (this is a specific amount, not just a drinking cup)
T or tbs = tablespoon (again, a specific amount)
t or tsp = teaspoon (also a specific amount)

Lemon Chess Pie

This recipe is based on one from a friend of my mother-in-law’s. It’s delicious! It has a pretty brown top and is a beautiful yellow inside. The pie is very sweet, so make sure you have something such as tea, coffee, or milk to drink while you eat it.


Filling Ingredients
2 C granulated sugar
1 tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp cornmeal
4 unbeaten eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup whole milk or 2% milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
Pinch of salt (only if you use unsalted butter)

Pie Crust
1 unbaked pie crust (flour-based, not graham cracker–buy frozen, or make it yourself)

Combine all of the filling ingredients in a bowl and stir until evenly mixed. Everything should be one color. Press the unbaked pie crust into a pie pan (if it didn’t come in a pan originally). Pour the filling into the pie crust. Bake the pie in an oven at 375 F about 35 mins, or until filling is set. The filling will be set when the top is brown and the center moves only a little when the pie is moved. When done, the pie filling will be soft, but not liquid. Take the pie out and let it cool for at least twenty minutes. Put it on a trivet, rack, or upside-down plate (not plastic) to cool. After that, you can either chill it in a refrigerator to eat it cold, or slice it and eat it warm right away!

Checking in

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to follow up on the cooking post. I’m looking forward to posting recipes and so on. However, I’m visiting my family, and they have very slow internet access. I think I’m going to have to wait till I return to California to post again. I’ll see you next week!

What is American cooking?

Many people have asked me this. The answer is complicated.

The food in many countries is a mix of influences from other cultures. Japanese food includes Chinese influences. Taiwanese food includes influences from different parts of China, Japan, and the South Pacific. Spanish food includes French and North African influences, and so on. However, American food is especially mixed up. Few individual dishes can be said to be 100% American: invented in America and using only ingredients from North and South America. However, we can still think of certain kinds of dishes as being part of “American cuisine” because of their origins, techniques, and flavors, or even simply if something is very popular in the USA. There is definitely more to American food than hamburgers and hot dogs!

Due to request, I will be writing some about American food in the next few weeks. I hope you will enjoy it and that you will comment with any questions you might have. I’m going to include some recipes, too.

First, one note: Much of the cooking vocabulary in English originates from French. This is because since colonial times, Americans have held French cooking in high esteem. (Thomas Jefferson really loved French food.) Words like cuisine, sauté, and braise all come from French. You can look up most ingredients and techniques on Wikipedia; be sure to read the American definition if there is more than one.

If you want to get started reading about American food now, you can visit the Smithsonian museum’s excellent site about 500 Years of American Food. It has lots of short articles on different topics, so click on whatever you’re interested.

Book review: Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted (Trophy Newbery)

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, is a great book for anyone who likes fantasy novels. Many of my international friends have read fantasy novels like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings in their native languages, but they found the original English versions very hard to read. If you would like to try something a little easier instead, try Ella Enchanted. It’s a very creative and enjoyable story that is loosely based on the “Cinderella” fairy tale.

The main character is a teenage girl, Ella, who was cursed by a crazy fairy. Ella has to be obedient to everyone–she has to do anything she is told to do. This isn’t just annoying–it’s dangerous! How can she survive the curse? Even more, how can she overcome the curse?

Ella is smart and good with languages. I liked her right away (although I’m jealous of her language skills!). She is not a Disney-type princess, but more like a real person. Her relationships with other characters in the novel are realistic, too. I don’t want to say much about the romance in the book, because I don’t want to ruin it for you. I’ll just say that the love story is both sweet and realistic. How unusual! Somehow, the story feels like real life, even though it includes fairies, ogres, curses, and other imaginary things.

Gail Carson Levine is a good writer, because she held my interest even though the book was written for older children (probably around 12 years old). The vocabulary level is not too high, so if you can read this blog, you can probably read the book. Words such as “centaur” and “ogre” might be new to you, but you’ll get the idea quickly. Don’t panic if you see nonsense words in the book: Ella sometimes speaks the languages of other creatures in the book. These words look strange, like “aaTHaiUghkl” and so on. You won’t have any problems realizing that these are not real English phrases.

In an upcoming post, I’ll write about different genres (categories) of fiction (novels and other made-up stories). Fantasy is one of my favorite genres. If you also like fairy tales or fantasy novels, I hope you will give this book a try. Feel free to comment and tell me what you think after you read the book.

(If you live in the USA, your library or local bookstore should have it. This book is also linked to in the Readable Blog Bookstore.)

Good Words: Comfort food

“There is nothing, absolutely nothing that pleasures me more than a bowl of pasta and tomato sauce. When I want to reach out with all my love to my husband, a dish of pasta and tomatoes is almost always in my hands. When I am worn out and the world isn’t such a nice place to be in, I make tomato sauce and pasta. When time is short but dear friends must be fed with joy and not pressure, I make pasta with tomato sauce.”

–Lynne Rossetto Kasper (Host of “The Splendid Table”),
speaking about comfort food for PBS’ The Meaning of Food

“Comfort food” is a great phrase! Can you guess what kind of food it is?

It’s not any one special food, because it’s different for everyone. It’s the food that comforts you. It might not be your #1 favorite food or the food that you think tastes best in the world. Instead, it’s something that makes you feel better when you are tired, sad, lonely, or sick.

For many people, their comfort foods are things they ate when they were small children, or that were treats when they were growing up. I asked five other Americans what their comfort foods are. Here’s what they said:

Me: macaroni and cheese, biscuits and gravy, flapjacks, hot French bread, royal milk tea, hot chocolate, warm homemade chocolate pudding, warm cinnamon rolls
My husband, Clint: macaroni and cheese, vanilla milk, spaghetti with meat sauce, pecan pie, hot links sausage, rice pudding, sushi (yes, really!)
My roommate and friend, Jenn: apple pie, chicken soup, split pea soup, fresh hot white bread, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, chicken pot pie, peach cobbler, barbecued ribs
My roommate and friend, Cory: pizza, lasagna, steak, ice cream, spinach and artichoke heart souffle
Cory’s friend, Jesse: meatloaf with twice-baked potatoes and brown gravy, fried okra
My friend, Paul: homemade (not microwaved) popcorn, homemade chocolate chip cookies

As you can see, there’s a variety of answers, but most of the answers aren’t healthy! These are the foods that you eat when you don’t care about the calories. Comfort foods are the ones that you miss when you go overseas for the first time. Sometimes people miss their comfort foods so much that they’ll pay lots of money at an international grocery store to get it, or they’ll ask their family members to mail it to them if possible.

(It’s also possible to gain a new comfort food during your life. When Clint started eating sushi after he moved to California, he just loved it, and he always felt like he was in a better mood after he ate sushi. So now it’s a comfort food for him. Royal milk tea is something I had for the first time in Japan, on the first day of our honeymoon, standing on a bullet train platform in Tokyo.)

If you want to read more about comfort food, visit PBS’ The Meaning of Food: Comfort Food. They asked some famous chefs and others to talk about their own comfort foods. Recipes are even included!

What is one of your comfort foods? Is it healthy or unhealthy? Do you make it or buy it? (Or do you ask a family member to make it?) Why do you think it makes you feel better?

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Comfort Food (Complete Idiot's Guide to)The Big Book of Breakfast: Serious Comfort Food for Any Time of the DayComfort Food (Step-by-step)Betty Crocker Comfort Food: 100 Recipes for the Way You Really Cook (100 Recipes/Way You Cook Today)

(After the health-food craze of the 1980s and 1990s, comfort food became a popular subject for cookbooks in the USA. Some people think it’s because Americans became more stressed out in the late 1990s. I don’t know, but the cookbooks are fun to look at! Please note: clicking on these images takes you away from this page, to the page about each book)