Why Is It Called Chess Pie? 

Why Is It Called Chess Pie

Made of butter, eggs, sugar, and flour/cornmeal, which are the bare essentials for a dessert to qualify as pie, chess pie is amazingly delicious and incredibly simple to make. It is orange with a golden-brown crust and looks nothing like chess, nor does it have something to do with it. So why is it called chess pie? 

The name “chess pie” derives from the phrase “just pie.” The chess pie originated in the South of America, and due to the accent of the people there, “just pie” sounded like “chess pie,” which is the name this pie is known as today. Because it contains nothing more than the essential ingredients and it is as simple as can be, it was “just pie.”

In essence, the chess pie got its name because of its simplicity. It really is just pie. Nevertheless, chess pie is living proof that less is more, and it, therefore, deserves to be discussed from another aspect- the origin of its name. So, in the following paragraphs, I will explain how chess pie got its name, what other names are, and which pies are similar to chess pie. 

Why Is Chess Pie Called Chess Pie? 

Being made of the most basic ingredients, butter, eggs, sugar, flour or cornmeal, or a combination of the two, chess pie contains just the bare minimum to pass for dessert. Its shape is also as simple as it can be—just a round pie with no top crust, no special decorations, and no extraordinary shapes. 

Chess pie was first known as vinegar pie, as it contained vinegar in the making. Vinegar was a very popular baking ingredient, as it helped the mixtures remain stable and acted as a bonding agent between the ingredients. If you want to, you can decorate it, but the recipe calls for nothing more than the essential ingredients and shaping. 

Chess pie was a dessert for the working class, which explains why it contains only what it has to in order to qualify as a dessert. They could afford only the basics and did what they could with them, which was chess pie. 

The story about the origin of the name of chess pie says that it was a so-called Southern poverty dish and the children who grew up in poor Southern families tended to become butlers and maids serving the rich. They were also employed as cooks in the rich people’s houses and took the recipes from the poor homes with them. 

The story is about a Southern woman who grew up in one poor family and worked as a maid and a cook in the house of a wealthy family. She was preparing the food for a dinner party the family she worked for was hosting. The maid was preparing the dessert, which was chess pie. 

One of the guests had wandered into the kitchen and saw the maid making the pie. Since rich people had cooked, they were easily amazed at the ingredients and cooking. So, this guest was very interested in what the maid was making and asked her overenthusiastically. 

The maid answered, “It’s just pie.”- wondering what was so amazing. Since the maid was speaking in a Southern accent, her answer sounded like “it’s jess pie,” which the guest took to be “it’s chess pie” and told the other guests that they were about to have “chess pie” for dessert. And the rest is history. 

Chess pie has nothing to do with actual chess, nor does it symbolize something chess-connected. It is just how “just pie” sounds with a Southern accent.

Since the Southern maids were dispersed throughout America, chess pie became famous all over the continent. Thanks to the development of the means of transport and communication, chess pie became known worldwide.

RELATED: Why Is Your Chess Pie Runny? How to Fix It?

What Are Some Other Names for Chess Pie? 

Chess pie doesn’t have other names describing chess than vinegar pie. There are, however, other names chess pie is known under, but if that’s not chess pie. 

Chess pie is the base for pecan pie, and many say “pecan pie” while thinking of “chess pie.” This is a misconception, as chess pie and pecan pie are two different pies. 

Buttermilk pie is another incorrectly given name to chess pie because buttermilk is different than chess pie. Nevertheless, buttermilk pie and chess pie share many similarities, which is why this misconception appeared in the first place. 

Chess pie is less often mistaken for a custard pie, as it doesn’t include custard. However, many decorate the chess pie with whipped cream and custard or custard-like toppings, so although it rarely happens, custard pie can be mistaken for chess pie. 

How Do You Pronounce Chess Pie? 

As I already mentioned, “chess pie” derives from the phrase “just pie,” which said, in a Southern accent, sounds like “jess pie.” The “ch” sound as the first sound in “chess” is more similar to the “je” sound as the first sound in “jess.” However, since the human brain tends to make sense out of everything we hear, “jess” is automatically processed into the next most similar sound that has meaning, which, in this case, is “chess.” 

What Pie Is Similar to Chess Pie? 

Since chess pie is simplicity incarnated, it is a base for many types of pie; ergo, there are many pies similar to it. If we are speaking in terms of ingredients, i.e., eggs, flour/cornmeal, sugar, and butter, almost all pies have them, so, in this aspect, countless pies are similar to chess pie. 

However, pecan pie and buttermilk pie are the ones that are closest to chess pie. 

RELATED: How Many Types of Pie Are There? + Examples & Pictures

What Is the Difference Between Custard Pie and Chess Pie? 

Chess pie and custard pie look and taste similar, but there are two key differences between them. Chess pie has cornmeal in the filling, while custard pie does not. Also, chess pie often contains cider vinegar in the filling, which is lacking in a custard pie. 

The custard pie is a bit creamier and more jiggly than chess pie, which tends to be rich but not as moist as the custard pie. Chess pie and custard pie run a risk of turning out runny, so the way of making and storing is practically the same for both. 

Why Is It Called Chess Pie

Is Chess Pie the Same as Buttermilk Pie? 

Chess pie and buttermilk pie are not the same things. This pie is very creamy, smooth, and tangy. Buttermilk often contains zest and vanilla flavoring in the filling and, of course, buttermilk. 

Chess pie has cornmeal in the filling, making it slightly lumpy and not as smooth as the buttermilk pie’s filing. Chess pie isn’t tangy either, and it has a slightly acidic whiff because of the cider vinegar used for the filling. 

  • Laura is the owner of Julie's Cafe Bakery. She started this blog with her grandma Julie who introduced her to the amazing world of cooking. She likes to experiment with different flavors, and her favorite flavors combo is chicken with coconut milk, curry and peanuts!