CurvyMama Smackdown: Chess Pie Versus Buttermilk Pie

Buttermilk pie

Buttermilk pie

A bunch of my friends got into an animated discussion the other day on Facebook about buttermilk pie and chess pie. Many of us weren’t too familiar with these pies, hailing as we do from some place other than the South. So I decided that this was a great chance to do another CurvyMama Pies smackdown.

Photo by Naomi Cohen (and that's your CurvyMama on the right)

Photo by Naomi Cohen (and that’s your CurvyMama on the right)

If you’re not familiar with our smackdowns, you can calm yourself, because there is no violence involved. It’s just my way of putting two kind-of-similar pies before an audience of tasters and seeing what they think. Take a look at my other smackdown posts about lemon, apple, and pumpkin pie.

The buttermilk-and-chess dialog unfolded on Pie Nation, a Facebook group I created with pie sister Kate McDermott of Art of the Pie in Washington State. (We’re happy to add you to the group if you send us a message on Facebook!) When my pie pal Gary Bates from Texas posted about his buttermilk pie, that just sounded too tempting and comforting and creamy to pass up. In discussing his pie, some other folks asked how it was similar to classic Southern chess pie, and off the dialog went. Thirty-five comments later, we had recipes posted and I had a smackdown plan.

Before I go any further, let me say that I am not using CurvyMama Pies recipes here. (And this buttermilk pie is an entirely different thing than the Bubby’s buttermilk pie that I blogged about last year. Both are delicious; just really, really different.) Once I tinker with these pies a bit more and settle on a version I like best, I’ll post again. But for now, I wanted to tell you what I made, and how my coworkers reacted when I brought them into the office.

The picture Gary posted of his buttermilk pie looked so yummy that I decided to use the recipe he used, from Food.com. For the chess pie, I used a recipe from Southern Living, which Kate pointed out (although she noted that this one is too sweet for her, and she has her own much-less-sweet version).

While the chess pie is pretty well established as a Southern treat, I found the heritage of the buttermilk pie harder to pin down. I found reports that it had originated in the United Kingdom and made its way to the American South. I also saw it referred to as Amish. But whatever its origins, it’s far more familiar now to Southerners than to those in the North.

Both pies have a similar base: melted butter, lots of white sugar, eggs and a little flour. But the chess pie is sweeter, and has the trademark cornmeal and vinegar, producing a filling that tastes like “yummy yellow cake batter,” according to my dear Missouri-born pal and pie lover Lesli.

Chess pie.

Chess pie.

The buttermilk pie delivers a more custardy filling, but is still pretty sweet, too.

Buttermilk pie

Buttermilk pie

IMG_1452Placed in front of a hungry newsroom at midafternoon, these pies couldn’t have been more welcome. (Well, in truth, any pie would have been welcome for this crowd.) They gushed over the sweet treats, but broke clearly for the buttermilk pie. The room was heavily tilted toward Northerners, some of whom commented that the chess pie was just too sweet for their taste. And the few who liked the chess pie better did have some Southern blood in them.

For this New York-and-California girl, the buttermilk was the winner. So creamy, simple and comforting. I will tinker with it and produce a version that’s purely CurvyMama. But the chess pie shouldn’t be overshadowed; its texture was wonderful, like the richest, moistest blondie you could imagine. (Remember, I love chess pie enough to create the Aztec Chocolate Chess pie, which deploys a chocolate chess base in a whole new way.) I’ll make more, cutting back on the sugar, and I’ll try more variations (coconut, lemon, etc). Stay tuned!

  1. elizabeth
    Funny because I just did my own taste test of chess pie vs. Buttermilk pie. I did 4 kinds. 1. Old fashioned chess pie. 2. Half chess batter half buttermilk. 3. Plain buttermilk pie. 4. Buttermilk pie with lemon juice added. My results: 1. Old fashioned chess pie was hands down the winner! I felt like it blew the buttermilk pie away. I am from Alabama and this chess recipe knocked my socks off. I live in cali now and went to school in New York and consider myself a major foodie. 2. Second best was the Plain buttermilk pie. I thought it looked pretty but was extremely bland and tasted like vanilla pudding (which I hate). I do love creme brulee which some say this tastes like, but creme bruise wouldn't be so great without the burnt sugar on top. This pie was missing something like that. I had a buttermilk pie at "I love pie" that had chocolate chips inside, and it was fantastic. So I think the buttermilk pie's issue was missing the chocolate chips or something to give it more flavor. I kind of felt like a toddler eating baby food. 3. The half chess half buttermilk was disgusting so don't try it. 4. The lemon buttermilk was also gross to me....I didn't think buttermilk needed any more sour added to it since it already has a little of that. Conclusion: Chess pie is hands down the best pie I have ever eaten and is in another class above buttermilk pie. It does, however, depend on the recipe you use. It also makes a difference that your audience isn't from the south. I can send you my chess recipe which isn't too sweet. Just let me know! I was very interested to see we both did a taste test. I was sure no one would ever want a buttermilk pie if they could have chess after I did my taste test. But then I read this blog....lol. So different people will like different things :)
  2. Curvy Mama Pies
    What a great experiment, Elizabeth! I'm glad there are kindred spirits out there doing these kinds of things!
  3. charles smathers
    do you sell this pie? who is a distributor?
  4. Curvy Mama Pies
    I sell it directly, Charles. I bake to order!
  5. Beth St John
    Love all yr comments on pie!! It's my favorite dessert and grew up with a major pie baked Mama. PLEASE get me in yr email list!!! If you have any awesome cookbooks out there which I am SURE you do, please email me the name. FYI..grew upon farm in IA and love to bake n cook. Lived CO CA AR n now retired no in northern IA!!! Keep up the GREAT WORK. Was making a custard pie tday and wondered about difference from chess pie as I loved south in AR for a spell...and stumbled into yr website! Lucky me. God Bless!!! Beth
  6. Beth St John
    Wanted to make a comment after making the Old Fashioned Egg Custard Pie recipe. I added 1 egg yolk in addition to the 3 on recipe, like another lady did. I also added 2 Tbsps of brown sugar and went from 3/4 cup of white sugar to 1 cup. I blind baked pie crust. It turned out perfect and was not too sweet but the light brown sugar added a warm depth to my past versions.
  7. Lindsey
    Try the buttermilk pie with raspberry sauce and whipped cream on top. Absolute heaven. But I like it plain too. So it may not add the texture some of you are looking for?
  8. Curvy Mama Pies
    Thanks for the good idea, Lindsey!
  9. Curvy Mama Pies
    Thanks for sharing your variation on this, Beth!
  10. Curvy Mama Pies
    Hey, Beth, I'm glad the blog makes you happy! I don't have a cookbook out there, but my dear friend and pie sister Kate McDermott has a MARVELOUS ONE: Art of the Pie. Look for it on Amazon!