Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mrs. Peters Chocolate Chess Pie

Yesterday was the first day of summer (although here in KY it feels like summer a lot sooner than the end of June, I assure you.) Both C and A have been working this vacation, and C is taking time off to go to the beach house owned by my maternal relatives and me in Nags Head, NC. I've been going to the beach since I was six months old, and being 53, that's a long time. I've seen things change over the years on the Outer Banks, many of which are less than pleasing.

View from the front porch at dawn.
As a child summering at the beach, life was so simple. Nags Head was not a popular vacation spot then, and the island was relatively undeveloped. There was no "French Fry Alley", no chain grocery store, no Wal-Mart (perish the thought!) If you wanted groceries you went to Harris's, where Mr. Harris ground his beef by hand, twice! When I was very young, there were only two stoplights on the whole island. A far cry from what it is now. But I can still go to the cottage, put my feet up on the front porch railing, and look at the sea, forgetting how built up it is, thank goodness. 

As a teen, I was privileged to meet Mrs. William Peters (Louise), who was affectionately called Wheezy by her friends. Her family owned the cottage three south of ours, and she had five sons. She was one of the old breed of southern women, who would move to the beach for the whole summer with her kids, her husband staying in the city to work, only visiting on weekends. My mother recalled meeting her at Harris's grocery store one day, where mom complained that the way we all ate, she had to shop every day! Mrs. Peters looked at her and plaintively said "Only once a day?"

We met because of her little Beagle dog (whose name I forget), which had been in a fight with another dog. My friend R and I took him home to her, and she brought us into the cottage, plunked us down in front of the television (a rarity at the beach at that time) and gave us cool glasses of lemonade. She told us all about her family, including her sons (of course, we were teens then) and generally was the epitome of southern graciousness.

Louise "Wheezy" Peters
I got to know her better as the summer went on and our mutual affection grew. She had no daughters, and took me under her wing, treating me with love and affection (it didn't hurt that I wound up dating one of her sons for about a year.) Being a southern woman, she cooked all the time. She had many recipes for traditional southern foods, and one special dessert recipe that she shared with me. I've made it over the years for special occasions, and it is a family favorite. The recipe is really very simple, based on a Chess Pie, but with chocolate added. Here it is, in memory of Wheezy Peters, a truly gracious Southern Lady:

Wheezy Peters' Chocolate Chess Pie
(serves eight)

  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate (or 5 TBSP cocoa)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Unbaked 9" pie crust

Melt the butter together with the chocolate and place in a medium bowl. Add the brown and white sugar, mix until smooth. Fold in the eggs, the vanilla, and the salt.
Bake in the unbaked pie crust for 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees until the top poufs up, and/or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. To die for!

NB: if you're using 9 1/2 inch pie pans, increase the ingredients to match. I use the following for two 9 1/2 inch pans:
  • 2 1/2 sticks butter
  • 5 squares chocolate
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 5 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 and 1/18 tsp salt.