LISA DONOVAN: Cooking in Nashville since 2005

Dirty Page: Buttermilk Chess Pie

photo: Andrea Behrends

photo: Andrea Behrends

There’s a reason Lisa Donovan’s buttermilk chess pie has made her famous. It originated from a book of blue ribbon recipes. It was likely a source of great pride for the recipe’s creator, Mrs. Mildred Baumgarner of Oklahoma City—and it inspired Lisa to tweak, perfect, and own her version of a buttermilk chess pie. Meaning it’s been a blue ribbon winner for both.

“I probably found this 8 or 9 years ago, maybe at Goodwill or something,” she says about the 1968 book, titled Blue Ribbon Recipes: County Fair Winners. “I read buttermilk chess pie and just thought, wha?!”

She immediately set about testing and adjusting the recipe to her own liking. “I wanted it to be a little more custard-y so I added more eggs, and I almost always crank down the sugar and pretty much always up the salt when I try things. Then I did it with different sugars. I tried it with vanilla, with lemon. I tried it with orange.” Hundreds of variations, later, she nailed it. “Getting that buttermilk chess pie where I wanted it probably took four years,” she said. Now? “It’s good. It’s like the golden child.”

As for the Blue Ribbon Recipes book, she still holds onto it as a keepsake. “I eventually realized, I should probably start making notes elsewhere instead of inside this really beautiful old book.” 

Cindy Wall