Unlike our gooey peach cobbler, festive bourbon balls, and classic caramel cake, buttermilk pie is an old-fashioned Southern dessert that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves. Light and silky smooth, this creamy custard-based pie hails from an era of “desperation pies.” (Also known as “make-do pies.”) As penny-pinchers and rationers during the Depression and World War II, Southern women worked with what they had, making pies with clever ingredients like vinegar and green tomatoes, instead of citrus fruit or crisp apples. These vintage pies feature fillings that are simple but hard-working, with a mixture of pantry staples taking the lead.
While some confuse buttermilk pie with similar variations like chess pie and custard pie, it has a distinct personality all its own, and this buttermilk pie recipe proves it. Chess pie typically includes either vinegar or cornmeal in the filling, often both, while custard pie skips the buttermilk altogether and often opts for a dash of nutmeg. In contrast, buttermilk pie gets its signature tangy flavor from buttermilk, a splash of lemon juice, and a hint of vanilla. From there, everyday ingredients like sugar, eggs, and butter handle the rest. (You’ll find yourself saying, “One and a half cups of sugar? For this single pie?” Like Mama told us: Just don’t ask questions.) There’s never been a better time to try your hand at learning how to make our Classic Southern Buttermilk Pie, one of our favorite forgotten pies of the South.