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Recipes for southern pies

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Nancy McDermott’s Southern Pies from Chronicle Books didn’t make headlines when it was published in 2010, but it should have – if only because it includes includes tasty and easy-to-make recipes for two of my favorite pies, pecan pie and chess pie.

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I’ve tried both, and made some personal modifications to improve on McDermott’s recipes.

Both of these pie recipes require a crust. Select the all-purpose white or whole-wheat pastry flour recipe you like and make it the same way always. If you’re still searching for a personal-best crust recipe, every cookbook writer and food expert has his/her own special way to make pie crust. Try them until you find one that satisfies you, or tweak one you like to create your own.

A good pecan pie

A good pecan pie is appreciated all year, not just during the fall holidays.

What makes a pecan pie good? It’s not too sweet, chock full of pecans, has little or no sweet filling just taking up space, and is simple to make.

Every year I’ve tried a different pecan pie recipe. Even with changes, none completely pleased me or my family. Finally this year, I found and tried Nancy McDermott’s pecan pie recipe, with modifications we liked. The recipe follows, including my changes:

Make or purchase a 9-inch single pie crust

One pound (two cups firmly packed) dark brown sugar. Note: This much sugar makes a very sweet pie. I used only one cup.

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup salt-free butter
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract. Note: I never measure vanilla; I add to taste.

1½ cups (about six ounces) pecans chopped or halved. Add more pecans if you like a really nutty pie.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-inch pan with crust and then crimp the edges decoratively.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and flour and stir to mix them well together. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and vanilla. Stir well with fork or whisk and mix everything together evenly. While stirring gently, slowly pour the warm sugar mixture into the milk mixture. Mix to combine everything evenly and well. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust. Sprinkle nuts evenly over the top. You can add extra nuts to cover the whole pie.

Place the pie on the bottom shelf of the oven. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the edges puff up and the center is fairly firm. It should wiggle only a little when you gently nudge the pan, and the pie should be nicely browned. Note: Sticking a cake tester into the pie to see if it is done does the same job and is easier.

Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A good chess pie

McDermott’s Southern Pies also includes Old-Time Chess Pie. As with her pecan pie recipe, her chess pie version is sweeter than necessary. It works fine if you cut the sugar in half.

Make or purchase a 9-inch single pie crust
2 cups sugar (or one cup if you prefer)
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
½ cup salt-free butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten well
½ teaspoon real vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 9-inch pan with crust and then crimp the edges decoratively.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar and flour. Stir and mix well with a fork or whisk. Add the butter, eggs, and vanilla. Continue mixing with a fork or a whisk until the ingredients are combined into a smooth, thick filling. Pour the filling into the pie crust.

Place the pie on bottom shelf of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees F. and bake 30 to 40 minutes until the edges puff up and the center is fairly firm. Wiggle the pan gently to see if the pie is done. Note: Sticking a cake tester into the pie to see if it is done does the same job and is easier.

Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let it cool to room temperature.

Here is a link to an earlier Examiner story on chess pie, Chess pie: An alternative Southern sweet from harder times, about my favorite chess pie from the St. Louis Art Museum Cookbook. This recipe and McDermott’s are different.

A recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch story by David Hunn discussed the current problems of the art museum’s newest restaurant. Huun writes, “Auditors found that the museum’s new restaurant… lost $260,000 over its first six months, while its dishes got panned by area critics for looking good and tasting bad.”

When I visited the restaurant a couple of years ago, I was horrified to see chess pie missing from the menu because the out-of-state management thought it was not sophisticated enough, even though they said “people come in looking for this pie.” I hope a new menu will include this item again.

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