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Transparent pie and dressing balls

I have been a consumer of Kentucky cookery, not a student of it. But, maundering in nostalgic longing, I’ve been unable to resist writing about it. You know about my grandmother’s sour cream cookies, and I told my fellow Sun blogger and expatriate Kentuckian Steve Sullivan about my mother’s bourbon balls. Now that I’ve written about fried chicken and other exotic victuals*, you’ve raised questions that must be addressed.

About those transparent tarts (which my family always called transparent puddings): I have no idea where the name transparent comes from, and neither did my grandmother when I asked her, some 45 years ago. Transparent pies and tarts are very much like pecan pie without the pecans.

The pie filling, according to one recipe, uses eggs, sugar, butter, vinegar and vanilla extract. Another one omits the vinegar while adding flour and cream. Some use milk instead of cream. My grandmother insisted that the addition of cream made it chess pie rather than transparent pie, but one source says that cornmeal is what distinguishes chess pie. I am not citing any of the Internet sources for these variations, because I can’t vouch for their authority. Some transparent pie recipes on the Internet use margarine.

My information on dressing balls is even sketchier. Dressing is a regional term for stuffing. Dressing balls are stuffing cooked outside the bird. Some recipes call for stale bread; as I mentioned, my grandmother ground up her own stale biscuits for the base. Never having paid attention to the manufacture, I can’t tell you whether she used broth or giblets, or onion and celery, or eggs, or spices beyond salt and pepper. Her dressing balls, rolled and cooked on a cookie sheet, were brown and slightly crunchy on the outside, deliciously soft and moist on the inside.

Her salt-rising bread was memorable, and I remember her telling another woman her secret for making it rise: She cheated and used yeast.


* Victuals, pronounced vittles, is from the Latin victualia, or provisions. This is the first occasion I've ever had to use the word.



Posted by John McIntyre at 6:19 PM | | Comments (1)


This is how to make a chess pie:
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Melt butter with sugar. Cool until firm. Beat eggs until frothy. Continue beating while adding spoonfuls of sugar and butter mixture. Add vanilla. Bake in a pie shell for one hour at 350 degrees.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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