I look forward to citrus season every year. A time when I need something to cut through the heavy sweets and treats that filled us up for two months prior to the new year; plus, a zesty, bright burst of sunshine and warmth we often lack here during the unpredictable Midwest winter. It also takes me back to a time I thought was so magical, well before my seventh birthday, when boxes of citrus fruit made their way from Florida to my grandparents’ house, wrapped in what seemed to be a tremendous amount of care. We delicately removed it from its package, then delicately from its peel, and delighted in segment after segment.
For this month’s Pie Club feature, Orange Chess Pie, we use Sumo Citrus, which is a combination of Satsuma, Orange and Mandarin, created by Japanese farmers in their pursuit to create the ultimate citrus fruit, but now cultivated in the U.S., grown here only in the San Joaquin Valley of California. It’s seedless, easy to peel, and verified non-GMO.
While citrus season promises to bring the best varieties of oranges, grapefruit and other citrus, Sumo Citrus is a stand-out for its decorative “top knot,” large size and a sweetness that doesn’t overpower the fruit’s acidity—all signs of the care and craft that their farmers put into the harvest. It takes four years of constant love and care before a Sumo Citrus tree produces any fruit. Despite its rugged appearance, this delicate fruit requires far more expertise and gentle handling than any other piece of citrus.
Fresh squeezed juice works best for this recipe. If you can find blood oranges or Cara-Cara oranges, you will find your pie has a difference in color, and will vary in flavor intensity and acidity. Look for Sumo in its characteristic purple box at your local grocery store, or online.
Chess Pie is a variation on the classic Southern Pie, also known as Jefferson Davis pie. Made with buttermilk, eggs, butter and sugar, it can be described as a type of custard pie, similar to pecan pie without any nuts. This pie is fairly easy to make. The ingredients come together quickly with an electric mixer and are poured into an unbaked pie crust—one that you make yourself, or buy pre-made.
Some say the name Chess Pie came from a mispronunciation of “just pie” or “jes’ pie;” others say its name derived from being served to gentlemen as they retreated to a room to play chess. The origin of the name for the chess pie recipe may be uncertain, but it was also believed that chess pies contained so much sugar they could be stored in a chest, instead of being refrigerated. While there are no claims that this is a “healthy pie,” Sumo Citrus packs a big nutritional value. With 163 percent of recommended daily Vitamin C and 3g of dietary fiber, it’s a convenient way to keep healthy eating resolutions on track when eaten on its own.
ORANGE CHESS PIE
- 9-inch pie crust, unbaked
- 1½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup butter (1 stick), room temperature
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 Tablespoon cornmeal
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice (your preference of oranges)
- 3 Tablespoons orange zest (from 2 large oranges)
- Preheat conventional oven to 350 degrees
- In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter
- Add the sugar and beat until fluffy
- Beat in the eggs and buttermilk
- Add the flour, cornmeal, orange juice and orange zest and mix until smooth
- Pour the mixture into your unbaked crust-lined 9 inch pie plate
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the center of the pie is set
- Cool completely on a wire rack, and serve with whipped cream or ice cream