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What is Buttermilk Pie?

By Mandi R. Hall
Updated May 16, 2024
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Buttermilk pie is rich in history, and somewhat rich in taste. A sort of custard pie, this type of dessert hails from the southern regions of the United States. Made primarily from buttermilk and a biscuit-like crust, buttermilk pie may be served plain or with additional flavors.

Though it is often called other names such as buttermilk chess pie, or simply chess pie, there is a difference between authentic chess pies and buttermilk pies. Chess pies contain cornmeal and occasionally corn syrup, which helps this pie reach its desired gelatinous consistency. Chess pie is similar to vinegar pie or pecan pie, though pecan pie clearly has the addition of pecans. These pies are all quite sugary, often with the addition of vanilla. Crème brûlée is another rich dessert often compared to buttermilk pie, though it, too, is much sweeter than the traditional southern dessert.

Alternatively, buttermilk pie does not use cornmeal or corn syrup, nor does it use as much sugar as the aforementioned pies. Buttermilk is used instead, giving the pie a tart and tangy taste rather than an overwhelmingly sweet taste. While the finished pie product doesn’t taste sour, the buttermilk itself has a slightly acrid taste before being added to the additional ingredients. This type of milk is, after all, made by adding acidic cultures to milk, which cause it to curdle. Internationally, buttermilk may still be made naturally by bottling the liquid left behind after the churning process. North America uses a more modern process, however.

A time-honored delicacy in southern American states along the Mason-Dixon line, Texans claim to be particularly fond of buttermilk pie. Their reasoning — and the reasoning of folks from other states with a lack of local fruit growers — is that buttermilk pie is a sweet alternative to fruit pie when fruit isn’t always readily available. Many people, however, do add fruit or other flavors to their buttermilk pies. Famed chefs and at-home chefs, alike, make chocolate and caramel buttermilk pies, as well as fruit-topped buttermilk pies. The traditional recipe does not call for vanilla or lemon zest, though such ingredients are often added to the pie in the 21st century.

Once the ingredients are stirred together and the crust pressed into the pie dish or tin, the pie is baked. Made with a traditional pie crust or a biscuit-like crust for a more breakfast-like feel, buttermilk pie is relatively effortless to whip up. Some people bake the pie without a crust, though such chefs need to carefully observe the baking process so as not to pull the pie from the oven before it solidifies. Buttermilk pie should be a dark golden brown on top.

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Discussion Comments

By anon969451 — On Sep 10, 2014

My Mother made the best buttermilk pies or custards I have ever eaten. She was born in 1909 and died in 1992. I wish I knew her recipe although yours sounds delicious. She didn't put pecans in hers. I'll try yours. Thanks so much for sharing

By PurpleSpark — On Sep 30, 2010

This is the recipe that I use for buttermilk pie and it is outstanding! You need:

9 inch pie pastry crust

1 1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup buttermilk, divided

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Prepare your pie pastry.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and 1/2 cup buttermilk. Add beaten eggs and the remaining 1/2 buttermilk; mix well with a whisk. Mix in the melted butter and vanilla extract.

Pour into prepared pie crust. Sprinkle pecans over the top. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F. and bake approximately 25 to 30 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

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