A Truly Southern Rhubarb Chess Pie

Rhubarb Chess Pie

A custard pie is not Chess Pie. Neither is a buttermilk pie. Though if you examine most Chess Pie recipes you’ll see cream and egg in roughly the standard ratio of custard – one or two eggs per cup of fatty liquid. My Rhubarb Chess Pie follows that ratio exactly. Does that make it a custard pie? Well, that depends on where you live. A lot of Northerners would call most any pie with that sort of ratio a custard pie. Add apple and they might call it Marlborough Pie. In the south (with or without apple), they’d probably call this pie Chess Pie.

In my opinion, these Southerners would only be partially correct.

There are plenty of other names for these very basic pies. In the mid-west, some call this pie Desperation Pie because you can make it even when you desperately need to restock the pantry. Here in the west, there’s a similar pie called Crack Pie, but that’s a terrible name. I like the Southern version (and name) best.

Rhubarb Chess PieRhubarb Chess Pie

Rhubarb Chess Pie

There’s more to Chess Pie than a custardy ratio of egg to cream. Remarkable in its simplicity and timeless in its appeal a Southern Chess Pie is not unlike a Northern custard pie because at its heart it contains four basic ingredients that most cooks always have on hand: flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. Of course, you can get fancy and add fruit (i.e. Rhubarb Chess Pie), cream, cocoa powder, or a sprinkling of nutmeg or cinnamon. However, it isn’t these optional additions that separate Chess Pie from a standard custard pie. The difference comes when Southern cooks add a tablespoon or two of gritty cornmeal and a nearly undetectable sour tang (which usually comes by stirring in some vinegar).

There’s one more step that truly separates Southern Chess Pie from its cousins. It’s also (who really knows?) may be (could be) the reason behind the name. Chess Pie is chilled in the ice ches’ after baking. Which doesn’t mean it’s eaten cold. No self-respecting Southerner I’ve heard of would ever eat it cold, but once it’s been baked, you allow it to cool on a rack and then refrigerate it for a few hours. At serving time the pie sits at room temperature 15 or 20 minutes before slicing. It’s a texture thing. Try it and see. GREG

Rhubarb Chess Pie

Rhubarb Chess Pie 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8Source Adapted from Better Homes and GardensPublished
Rhubarb Chess Pie


  • single-crust pie pastry
  • 2 cup (½‑inch thick) slices rhubarb
  • 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar (divided)
  • 2 teaspoon unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 3–4 pinch kosher salt (divided)
  • 4 large eggs (lightly beaten)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup melted unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


Set oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400ºF.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out to a 12-inch circle, a generous ⅛‑inch thick. Carefully transfer the dough to a 9‑inch pie plate and gently press it up the sides. Drape any excess crust over the edge, then fold under and crimp decoratively. Use a fork to prick holes in the bottom of the dough. Line the dough with parchment or foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 8 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and parchment or foil, then continue baking for another 5 minutes, or until the crust is dry and pale colored. Remove from the oven and set aside on a rimmed baking sheet to cool. 

Meanwhile, toss together sliced rhubarb, ¼ cup granulated sugar, butter, and a big pinch of salt on a separate rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring once, until just tender, about 12 minutes. Scrape the rhubarb, and any juices, evenly across the bottom of the prepared pie pastry. Lower the oven temperature to 350ºF.

In a large bowl whisk together eggs, remaining sugar, cream, melted butter, vinegar, cornstarch, cornmeal, vanilla and 2 or 3 big pinches of salt. Once well-combined pour the mixture over the rhubarb in the pie pastry. Place the pie, on the rimmed baking sheet, in the heated oven and bake for 40 minutes., or until the center of the pie is just set. If the crust get too brown lightly tent it with foil for the last 10 or 15 minutes of baking. Cool on a wire rack 2 hours. Cover and chill the pie at least 3 hours. Allow the pie to sit at room temperature 15 or 20 minutes before slicing.

Rhubarb Chess Pie