Monday, January 25, 2010

Irish Coffee, Chess Pie & Peanut Brittle?

I hadn't planned on doing a post today. I just returned from a gruesome business weekend. However, I did want to remind everyone that today is Irish Coffee Day, (the link is below) and, I wanted to offer a bit of information about Chess Pie.

When I was preparing to do my post for National Pie Day, one of the pies I considered baking was called Hawksbill Chess Pie as found in the book Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine by Joseph E. Dabney. (1998) Subtitled The Folklore and Art of Southern Appalachian Cooking, this book is absolutely filled to the brim with all kinds of nifty tidbits. I hope to include it in a post in the future but, not today. Anyway, the recipe sparked my interest for its sheer simplicity. The only reason I went for the Lemon Meringue Pie was because, I wanted to challenge myself in the baking arena and since I've been buying lemons by the bags these days, I was hoping to enhance a pie rather than my freezer. (I have tons of lemon ice cubes in the freezer; why, who knows!!!)

When I stopped by Marjies and saw her Lemon Chess Pie, it occurred to me that I could have just as well used up some lemon in Lemon Chess Pie. Perhaps, next time:) It seems, there were a few questions as to why Chess Pie is called Chess Pie as opposed to, oh I don't know, cheese pie for instance. A quick, and I mean quick, run over to the books, and here are just a few explanations that I found. Perhaps, next year for National Pie Day, I'll bake up a Chess Pie and dive right into its history.

From Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine:

Where did the term chess pie originate? Susan Purdy, author of As Easy As Pie, ties it to the wrod chest, pronounced with a Southern drawl, and used to describe pies "baked with so much sugar they could be stored in a pie chest." Such chest-high pie safes with perforated-tin panels doors were common throughout the region before the days of refrigeration. Another speculation is that the name came as a cook's response--jes pie--to what he was cooking...

Although chess pies are definitely Southern, and similar to transparent pies and buttermilk pies, they are relative newcomers to Southern cookbooks, having shown up only since the turn of the century...

According to Elizabeth Hedgecock Sparks in North Carolina and Old Salem Cookery (1955 1st edition) "Many folks call chess pies tarts or pies, chess cakes." There is no other reference to Chess Pies in this first edition as far as I can see. I will look further in a future post.

And finally from The Dictionary of American Food and Drink by John Mariani:

Also, "chess-cake pie" and "chess tart." A simple egg, butter, and sugar pie (commonly made with buttermilk) long associated with the South. Meringue is sometimes added as a topping. The origin of the name has escaped a definitive answer. "Some believe it may be a derivation of "cheese pie," although traditional chess pies do not contain cheese of any kind. According to Sarah Belk in Around the Southern Table (1991), old cookbooks often referred to cheesecakes and pies that do not actually contain cheese, using the term more to describe the curd like texture of the confection, citing a selection of cheeseless :cheese pastries in Housekeeping in Old Virginia (1979) made with eggs, sugar, butter, milk and lemon juice--ingredients often used in a chess pie. Belk also cited Elizabeth Hedgecock Sparks who said, "chess pie was an old, old tart which may have obtained its name from the town of Chester England.

...Belk noted that chess pies made with white sugar were called "sugar pies," those with brown sugar "brown-sugar-pies," and those with raisins "Osgood pies (an elison of "Oh-So-Good") 

Well, I'm not quite sure what I have accomplished by this post except to say, I need a piece of pie, any kind of pie, NOW!!!

FYI: January 26th is the birth anniversary of the late Paul Newman. I shared recipes from Newman's Own last year. It is also the patent date of what possibly may be the first "meat cutter" or "meat chopper." An interesting contraption, you can see an image of it @ google patents. I would also like to wish my Australian visitors a Happy Australia Day. As Haalo from Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once exclaims, "Is there a better way to celebrate Australia Day than with that great Australian invention, Pavlova? (another meringue favorite:) According to the National Confectioners Association, tomorrow is also National Peanut Brittle Day and National Pistachio Day @ Slashfood!!!

And you thought I made this stuff up:) I try to post a food celebration on twitter each day. You can always visit me if you like:) For those of you who never saw this previously posted Peanut Brittle Recipe Poem, here it is as I found it in the Polish Town Fair & Festival Cookbook, (1984)

When it is Christmas candy time,
Or any time of year,
This peanut brittle recipe
Becomes especially dear.

You add to One large cooking pan
A cup of each of these
White syrup, sugar, water too
And blend with gentle ease.

A teaspoonful of table salt,
When it is added too,
Will mean that you have reached the point
When you must cook the brew.
So cook it to the soft ball stage
And then itis time to add
A tablespoon of butter
And the peanuts to your pan.

It takes one pound of peanuts
That you've purchased in the shell,
And shucked yourself ahead of time
To make this turn out well.

With all ingredients in the pan
You cook until it's brown,
And take your pan from off the stove
Your candy's almost done.

Stir in one teaspoon soda,
Pour on a buttered sheet,
And let it harden as it will,
Then break in chunks your treat
The rest comes very naturally
Just eat to suit your will,
And have a happy holiday
That's peanut brittle filled.

P.S. I'm working on a special post for Friday. If all goes well, I'll be back with it then. I'll give you a hint, January 29th is the birthdate of Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, editor, poet and children's writer who wrote under the pseudonym "Susan Coolidge."

1. Irish Coffee Day (previous post)
2. Irish Coffee Pie from Land O'Lakes
3. Irish Coffee Pie made with gelatin from the Food Channel
4. Easy Irish Pie
5. Chess Pie @ wiki
6. Chess Pie @ What's Cooking America
7. North Carolina and Old Salem Cookery (A New and Revised Edition is available @ The University of North Carolina Press)