The earliest printed reference to the pie was in a cookbook published by the Fort Worth Women's Club in 1928. The unusual name has many possible origins. Some think it is derived from the word "cheese", even though there is no cheese in chess pie. According to Sara Belk in "Around the Southern Table," old cookbooks often referred to cheesecakes and pies that did not actually contain cheese, using the term to describe the curd-like texture. Elizabeth Hedgecock Sparks, author of "North Carolina and Old Salem Cookery," said chess pie was "an old, old tart which may have obtained its name from the town of Chester, England." In "Southern Food," John Egerton offers two more possibilities. The first has to do with a piece of furniture common in the early South called a pie chest or pie safe. Chess pie may have been called chest pie at first because it held up well in the pie chest. The second story is that a creative Southern housewife came up with the concoction and tried it out on her husband, who loved it. "What kind of pie is this?" he is said to have exclaimed. His wife shrugged and smiled. "I don't know," she said; "it's ches' pie."
Chess pie has a simple filling of eggs, sugar, butter and a small amount of flour. Some recipes include cornmeal and others are made with some vinegar. Brown or white sugar may be used, and buttermilk is a common ingredient. Flavorings, such as vanilla or lemon juice, may also be added to vary the basic recipe.