A favorite Old Mill recipe is for Tennessee Chess Pie, a simple southern classic made with just eggs, butter, and sugar, with the addition of cornmeal and vinegar. In parts of the South, and certainly here in the East Tennessee mountains, lemon juice was a scarcity in baking, so vinegar was substituted for flavor. And when thickening was needed in cooking and baking, cooks turned to what they had on hand – cornmeal. So chess pie is a little different than other custard pies, and we love to bake it with our freshly stone-ground yellow cornmeal.
2. Place the sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat until creamy. Add the eggs, vinegar, cornmeal, salt, and milk and stir to combine well. Pour the batter into the pie crust, and place in the oven.
This simple quick bread is made with just a few basic ingredients. It gets its name from the baking soda that’s used as the leavening agent, which reacts with the acids in the buttermilk to give the bread the rise it needs. In old Irish lore, it’s said that the criss cross in the top is to ward off evil spirits! Serve it with sweet cream butter and preserves or marmalade for a delicious breakfast or snack.
Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the whole wheat flour and white flour in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the baking soda and salt, and whisk to combine. Stir in the raisins. Cut the butter into tablespoons and each tablespoon into four pieces. Scatter these pieces of butter on top of the flour mixture and cut into the mixture using two knives, a pastry blender, or a food processor, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg and buttermilk, and stir until the dough pulls together into a sticky ball.
With floured hands, turn the dough onto a sheet pan. Form the ball into a smooth round, about 10 inches across. Flour a sharp paring knife, and cut a cross into the top of the loaf. Place the pan in the oven.
Bake until deeply golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool before slicing. Best if cooled, wrapped in foil, and sliced the next day.
Fresh lemons were a special-occasion ingredient in Smoky Mountain kitchens of old. In everyday cooking and baking, the flavor might be mimicked with apple cider vinegar or buttermilk. But during the Christmas holidays, lemon zest and juice were used in cookies, cakes, and pies. This simple butter cookie recipe – perfect for gift-giving – uses not only fresh lemon zest and juice, but also locally produced yellow self-rising cornmeal and chopped nuts. The nuts were black walnuts or hickory nuts in older mountain recipes, but today, most cooks bake with pecans. Corn was a crop more easily grown than wheat in mountain soil. So sometimes you find cookie recipes from the mountains contained a little cornmeal, adding texture and that little something extra!
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, separated
1 small lemon
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Place the flour and cornmeal in a small bowl, and stir to combine. Set aside.
3. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and with an electric mixer beat on medium speed until the mixture is creamy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside the egg white. Place the egg yolk in the bowl with the butter and sugar, and beat on low until just combined, 30 seconds. Set aside.
4. Zest the lemon so you get about 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Add this to the butter and sugar mixture. Cut the lemon in half and juice it to yield 2 teaspoons. Add the lemon juice to the butter and sugar mixture. Add the flour and cornmeal mixture to the butter and sugar mixture, and beat on low speed until just combined and the mixture comes together into a ball, 1 minute.
5. Place the pecans in a shallow bowl. Pinch off 1-inch pieces of dough, roll into balls with your hands, dip into the egg white, and dredge in pecans to loosely coat. Place the balls of dough on a baking sheet, spaced about 2 inches apart. With a fork press down twice on each ball to flatten it. Repeat with the remaining dough. You will need to bake one pan at a time.
6. Place the pan in the oven, and bake until the cookies are deeply golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove with a spatula to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough.
How to make icebox cookies: Roll the dough into a 1 1/2-inch wide log and wrap in waxed or parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator to chill 1 hour. Brush the log with the reserved egg white and dredge in pecans. Slice into 1/4-inch rounds, and bake until golden brown, 7 to 9 minutes. You can omit the egg white and pecans, if desired, for lemon cornmeal icebox cookies.
Our General Store Manager, Ginger, shared this recipe with us. Corn flour gives them a nice texture and flavor that pairs very well with the addition of lemon. It makes a great shortbread cookie and with the addition of chopped pecans, they did not last long. These are the Miller’s favorite cookie!
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (from 1 large or 2 small lemons)
Place the flour, corn flour, cornstarch, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Set aside
Cut the butter into tablespoons and place in a large bowl. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. Blend on low speed until creamy. Add the flour mixture and blend on low until smooth.
Turn half of the batter out onto a long sheet of waxed or parchment paper and roll into a 1 1/2-inch-thick log. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough and chill at least 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the logs of dough from the fridge, and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Place about 12 to a baking sheet, and bak until the edges just turn golden brown, about 11-14 minutes.