The Most Famous Pies in Southern History
Our Southern pies have places of honor in our recipe boxes and cookbooks. They are as storied as the Southerners who share them, adapt them, and make these pies their own. A pie has the ability to transport you to childhood, to nostalgic moments spent in the kitchens of mothers and grandmothers. We remember rolling out piecrusts, mixing filling, and impatiently awaiting the pie’s emergence from the oven (or, in the case of the icebox pie, its emergence from the refrigerator). These are the stories (and recipes!) of the most famous and beloved pies in Southern history.
We can all agree that we love chess pie, but we can’t seem to agree where the dessert got its name. The mixture of eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla, and flour made its way to the American South from England. It became popular in Virginia and has had many incarnations, from the Classic Chess Pie, Chocolate-Pecan Chess Pie, and Pumpkin-Lemon Cream Cheese Chess Pie to fruity versions, like Lemon Chess Pie, Tangerine Chess Pie and Grapefruit Chess Pie. Because the pie was kept in pie chests, some say the name “chess” comes from “chest.” Others say that the pie was often served during evenings spent playing chess. Still others claim that “chess” is a variant of the British “cheese” pie. No matter the origin, this pie has become a Southern staple.
While the pumpkin is native to North America, the pumpkin pie developed in Europe. It soon spread to the colonies alongside the Pilgrims and developed into the pie that we know and love today, thanks in large part to the emergence and popularity of Thanksgiving. Today, a good pumpkin pie transcends Thanksgiving, though a holiday meal without the dessert is bereft indeed. It is creamy and autumnal, a celebration of cinnamon and the advent of brisk weather. Try the recipe for Our Easiest Pumpkin Pie Ever—anyone can master it, we promise. If you’re looking for something a little different, try a variation on the classic pumpkin pie with our recipe for Pumpkin-Pecan Streusel Pie. It’s the best of both worlds.
The pecan pie has a storied Southern history. It’s a true American pie, because the pecan tree is native to the area. The first recorded recipe for pecan pie appeared in church cookbooks published in the 19th century. Variations of the pie became popular in Texas, and recipes spread throughout the South thanks in large part to the now-infamous recipe printed on the Karo syrup can (and later, the Karo syrup bottle). Who still uses that classic corn syrup for their pecan pies? Take it a step further by adding the touches of caramel and chocolate called for in our Salted Caramel-Chocolate Pecan Pie. It’s so indulgent, so pretty, and so very delicious.
Salted Caramel-Chocolate Pecan Pie
Chocolate lovers, we've got something for your sweet tooth! When you put this rich, delectable Salted Caramel-Chocolate Pecan Pie on the table, there won't be any leftovers – guaranteed. A cross between a fudge pie and pecan pie, this treat is one of our favorite Thanksgiving dessert recipes. It's all the more stunning if you arrange the pecans from the center in a spiral pattern. Drizzle with warm caramel, sprinkle with kosher salt, cut a slice, and grab a spoon.
These no-cook desserts emerged during the early 19th century and get their name from the iceboxes that they were stored in. Iceboxes were an early version of the refrigerator, and they were cooled using a giant block of ice. Because this pie requires no cook time and can be chilled in the refrigerator until time for dessert, it is still popular today. We’re partial to creamy versions like the Peanut Butter-Banana Icebox Pie or sweet, fruity recipes like the Strawberry-Pretzel Icebox Pie.
Key Lime Pie
This is the southernmost of the Southern pies, thanks to the coordinates of Key West, the home of this beloved pie. It traces back to William Curry, Key West’s first millionaire, who also imported the condensed milk needed for the recipe. If you find yourself in Key West, visit Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe or the Key West Key Lime Pie Co. for authentic Key lime pies. Or you can make one yourself—we’d recommend our Test Kitchen-favorite Key Lime Pie or our classic-with-a-special-touch Praline Key Lime Pie.