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Tastebud: Southern Pies

Anna Mowry

Anna Mowry

August 03, 2010


The James Beard Foundation reports on pies from the American South

Sometime between Prohibition and World War II, apple pie became a token of homespun America, and it has since been trotted out in support of a political score as often as it has been pulled from an oven. We can’t help but feel a bit slighted on behalf of all the other wonderful pies that have a place in our country’s history, particularly those of the American South.

Chess pie, a traditional dessert with a custardy, cornmeal-thickened filling, is often served with tea to keep its sweetness in check. According to The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine, chess pie was invented to use up extra butter, eggs, and molasses in plantation kitchens. James Beard claimed that the chess pie recalls English cheese tarts, and the lineage suggests that the name “chess” is a corruption of the word cheese. Others argue that the name refers to the chests or safes in which the pies were stored.

Likely named for its portability, the hand pie—or “pocket pie”—was another plantation creation. On a Good Eats episode titled “A Pie in Every Pocket,” Alton Brown explains that after baking pies for their masters, slaves snuck away with leftover dough and filling to secretly make hand pies to feed themselves. Now the folded, filled, and crimped packets are traditionally made with biscuit dough, and are panfried or deep-fried.