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The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book Arrived! It’s PIE BAKING DAY! (plus I find out that I am a Pie Crimp Gimp)

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A few days ago I was thinking about my grandfather’s chess pies and searching for recipes. I found a few websites that waxed poetic over a famous pie bakery in Brooklyn, New York known for their delicious chess pies. Four & Twenty Blackbirds also has a very well received cookbook

I’ve been waiting all week for The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book to arrive from Amazon and it’s FINALLY here!

The reviews were off the charts! The book is everything they said it would be: beautiful, glossy coffee table book-style photos, detailed and unusual recipes- it’s a well-written cookbook.

the old workhorse- my kitchenaid stand mixer

the old workhorse- my kitchenaid stand mixer

ANYWAY- I started the pie making endeavors with the Rhubarb Custard pie. Things went well until I realized all of my pie pans were missing- so I had to improvise with a Corelle round pan and a cake tin for the pies.

this was a really good pie

this was a really good pie

Rhubarb Custard was an unusual recipe- an oatmeal cookie type crust, a layer of rhubarb jam, and a delicately spiced creamy custard layer on top. Next time I will try it with a real pie pan!

rhubarb

rhubarb

I also hit another snag when I ran out of already ground cinnamon- so I had to dig out my cinnamon sticks from their jar and HAND GRIND them with a mortar and pestle… *that* was a pain in the ass.

this rhubarb custard pie may not be pretty plated, but it sure was good!

this rhubarb custard pie may not be pretty plated, but it sure was good!

Buttermilk chess tastes like the innards to a cheese danish

Buttermilk chess tastes like the innards to a cheese danish

The second pie I made was the Buttermilk Chess Pie (probably the reason why I bought this book). I had problems with it, as I had to rush the process (because I had to take my mother somewhere- she has early dementia and showed up BY HERSELF in her van- not something she generally does anymore). I didn’t prebake the crust long enough and didn’t bake the custard long enough- still set, though- and still delicious.  It just wasn’t attractive once plated.

not cute, but really yummy

not cute, but really yummy

After pie #2, I went out and purchased some pyrex pie pans.

ugliest crimp job EVER! I am a pie crimp gimp. Lemon Chess Pie.

ugliest crimp job EVER! I am a pie crimp gimp.
Lemon Chess Pie.

The THIRD pie I made today was the Lemon Chess Pie, which is a huge seller per the store’s website. I browned it a bit too long, but it turned out well. The pie custard itself contained heavy cream, lemon and orange juice, melted butter, etc… very decadent. I will admit that I SUCK at pie edge crimping, so there’s that ugliness. I need to watch some youtube tutorials soon, I think. I haven’t tried this pie yet, though. I was pie-d out by the time this one was done.

I also found 5 lb boxes of local blueberries on sale for $10.00, so blueberry pie will definitely be in my future.

I *will* master the Art of Pie. This is my new goal. I’m a really skilled cook- I just can’t bake worth a shit. I have no patience. I am going to force myself to love this and learn this.

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In Search of Chess Pie… has anyone heard of or eaten it?

this looks very similar to my grandfather's pie- except his filling was almost translucent

this looks very similar to my grandfather’s pie- except his filling was almost translucent

My grandpa has been gone for nearly 20 yrs now. I was the first grandchild (at least, the first ‘official’ one) and raised primarily in my grandparents’ home until my grandmother passed away. I always associate food, Hee Haw, and those Barrel of Monkeys games with him.

Photo of baby me and my grandpa, a lifetime ago

Photo of baby me and my grandpa, a lifetime ago- I looked very much like Maisie does now.

The food part is easy- he was who fed me as a baby. He was proud of the fact that my pudgy baby self could “eat as much as grandpaw”- which was back when being a ‘good eater’ was something to be proud of.

The Barrel of Monkeys thing was from the little plastic monkeys my aunts had that I would drop down the sides of his recliner so that he would make them ‘talk’ for me.

Hee Haw was a country music television show my grandparents ALWAYS watched.

I realized tonight, while talking to my cousin, that we all have such different memories (and some of my cousins have no memories at all of him) of our grandfather. To my cousin Josh, he meant Okinawan WW2 stories and exciting things. To me it was food… and chess pie.

When I was about 12, more or less, he divorced one of his ex-wives that he married after my grandmother passed (I don’t recall which one) and moved into a rental next door to our farm for a while. He used to bake these delicious pies that I LOVED and begged him to teach me how. They were like a less sweet version of the insides a pecan pie or a tarte au sucre… butter, almost custard-y, and SO simple to make.

I have never heard of anyone else eating or making chess pies- before or since- and I only thought of this memory tonight, after having stored it away for decades.

According to Wikepedia:

“History

According to James Beard’s American Cookery (1972), chess pie was brought from England originally and was found in New England as well as Virginia. The origin of the name chess pie may have come from the term “pie chest”, another name for a pie safe.[1]

Composition

Recipes vary, but are generally similar in that they call for the preparation of a single crust and a filling composed of eggs,butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. What sets chess pie apart from many other custard pies is the addition of cornmeal. Some recipes also call for corn syrup, which tends to create a more gelatinous consistency. The pie is then baked. The finished product is often consumed with coffee.[citation needed]

Similar pies

Chess pie is closely related to vinegar pie, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. Vinegar pie generally adds somewhere between a teaspoonful andtablespoonful of vinegar to the above ingredients to reduce the sweetness. Some variations are called Jeff Davis or Jefferson Davis Pie, and Kentucky pie. Buttermilk pie is similar to both of these, using buttermilk for souring instead of vinegar, but without cornmeal.

Although preparation of a pecan pie is similar (with the obvious addition of pecans), pecan pies usually contain corn syrup.

Lemon chess pie is a form of chess pie made with lemon juice that is popular in the Southern United States.”

I don’t recall my grandfather’s version having much more than oil/butter, sugar, and eggs in it.

What’s Cooking America  includes 2 recipes from the 18th and 19th centuries:

Mid 1700s – From the cookbook Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, transcribed by Karen Hess:

To make very good cheesecakes without] cheese curd
Take a quart of cream, & when it boyles take 14 eggs; If they be very yallow take out 2 or 3 of the youlks; put them into [the] cream when it boyles & keep it with continuall stirring till it be thick like curd. [Then] put into it sugar & currans, of each halfe a pound; ye currans must first be plumpt in faire water; then take a pound of butter & put into the curd a quarter of [that] butter; [then] take a quart of fine flowre, & put [the] resto of [the] butter to it in little bits, with 4 or 5 spoonsfulls of faire water, make [the] paste of it & when it is well mingled beat it on a table & soe roule it out.. Then put [the] curd into [the] paste, first putting therein 2 nutmeggs slyced, a little salt, & a little rosewater; [the] eggs must be well beaten before you put them in; & for [your] paste you may make them up into what fashion you please…”


1877
– Estelle Woods Wilcox’s 1877 cookbook called Buckeye Cookery, she includes a recipe for Chess Pie:

Chess Pie
Three eggs, two-thirds cup sugar, half cup butter (half cup milk may be added if not wanted so rich); beat butter to a cream, than add yolks and sugar beaten to a froth with the flavoring; stir all together rapidly, and bake in a nice crust. When done, spread with the beaten whites, and three table-spoons sugar and a little flavoring. Return to oven and brown slightly. this makes one pie, which should be served immediately.
– Miss J. Carson, Glendale.

The 1877 recipe is VERY similar to what I remember my grandfather baking- except I think he used cooking oil and omitted the meringue topping.

At some point I will ask around to see if anyone still has his recipe for it. I haven’t made this dessert since I was a teenager, but now I am very curious.

Have any of you heard of Chess Pie?