Allow me, if you will, to share a little of home with you. Home to me is Paris, Kentucky. It is horse country (Florida be damned, no offense to anyone), specifically racehorses. The area I grew up in is practically nothing but racing farms, including Claiborne Farm, where Secretariat (and Buckpasser) retired to and is buried; Stone Farm; Xalapa; and Stonerside, among other breeding facilities. A goodly number of Henry Clay’s descendants call our little town home. Garrett Morgan, who invented the tricolor traffic light and the gas mask, and George Snyder, who made the first USA fishing reel, were Paris natives. We’ve got the tallest three-story building (the Shinner Building on Main) in the world, and we lay claim to the largest one-room log cabin in the country, the Cane Ridge Meeting House, where the Great Revival of 1801 took place (even though it’s technically in North Middletown, not Paris). Our motto is “Horses, History and Hospitality.” Horses, we’ve got; history, we’ve got; and hospitality, we’ve definitely got. Despite the fact that we are growing, and Lexington is trying it’s best to assimilate us into big-city living, we’re still basically a small town in Kentucky.
I didn’t realize until I moved around as a kid that food was actually regional. I thought everyone ate your average Sunday dinner after church (never mind that my family never went to church, just that Sunday dinner was ‘after church’), that it was generally chicken and mashed potatoes and green beans with bacon and cabbage and yeast rolls. I didn’t know that burgoo, Ale-8, hot browns, beer cheese, corn pudding, jam pies and bourbon balls simply didn’t exist as cuisine per norm anywhere but home. I was devastated to learn all this, most notably with respect to beer cheese, Ale-8 and corn pudding. My uncle always sends me back to school with a batch of beer cheese, and I usually return to Georgia loaded with at least 3-4 cases of Ale-8.
In the case of desserts, especially, is where one might see the differences shining through, thanks to jam pies, hand pies, bourbon balls, Derby Pie, Throughbred pie and transparent pie. Where the general population of the South has chess pie, Kentucky has transparent pie. And oh, how I love transparent pie. It was a given for someone to bring one to any gathering – or two or three, depending on the gathering. My grandmother made them frequently, often for Sunday dinner dessert; sometimes, she topped hers with criss-crossing drizzles of chocolate and caramel, as if the pie needed more sugar!
The biggest difference between a classic chess pie and a transparent pie is the addition of cream to the latter. Chess pie will also sometimes have vinegar added, to cut the sweetness, but I don’t think it makes a difference (except to add a little extra wang). Chess pie is basically cheesecake pie, sans the cream cheese. I’ve seen chess pie with meringue, too, which should not (imo) go on transparent pie. I don’t think it should go on chess pie, either, but I’m not a big fan of meringue anyway. (Friendly note: my father adores meringue, especially on lemon pie. ‘Calf slobbers,’ he calls it.)
Be warned, of course, that this dessert is rich like you won’t believe. Well, after you read the ingredients list, you may believe. Eat it anyway. It’s also a blessedly simple recipe that you can make as a quick pie, as tarts, whatever. I highly suggest you serve it warm, although cold leftovers with a cold glass of milk are just as, if not more, delicious than the first go-round. Coffee is the usual drink of choice to go with transparent pie, as with chess pie, but do as you wish.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2 cups sugar
1 cup cream
4 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 unbaked (9-inch) pie shell
Beat butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add cream, and mix well. Beat in eggs. Stir in flour and vanilla. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown.
Top it if you wish, with whipped cream, or chocolate and caramel as my grandmother did, or both. Nuts are acceptable, but you run the risk of traipsing into Derby Pie territory if you add nuts (pecans are a preferred favorite, by the way).
I baked my pie with a bought crust, drinking a tasty Ale-8 and feeling mildly homesick after talking to a friend of mine still there. My filling made a little more than what filled up the pie crust – in fact, almost a whole half cup more. Surprise! After I put the pie in the oven, and cleaned up the mess I’d made on the floor getting the pie to the oven rack, I spent the next twenty minutes eating creamed sugar, butter and cream off a spatula and attempting to convince myself that I should stop for fear of raw egg disease. (It didn’t work.)
Though the raw pie filling was tasty, the cooked pie was a lot tastier. Creamy, almost unbearably sweet, it was perfect with a glass of cold milk. Maybe it’s not the healthiest choice for breakfast, but it sure did get me going.