What Exactly Is Kentucky's Transparent Pie?

The great state of Kentucky is home to many well-known food traditions, from its sweet treats like bourbon balls, butter cake, and derby pie to Louisville's famous hot brown sandwich. However, another tradition that often graces the Bluegrass state's tables during the holidays is the regionally beloved transparent pie. This pie is often confused with the South's famed chess pie, Quebec's beloved sugar pie, or even classic pecan pie. While these rustic and dense desserts have somewhat similar appearances, textures, or flavors, transparent pie is a dessert unto itself. 

The name is a bit of a misnomer, as the pie filling is less transparent than it is off-white, with a predominantly colorless ingredient lineup of sugar, butter, eggs, flour, cream, and vanilla. Nonetheless, transparent pie has made a name for itself across Appalachia and beyond and continues to be enjoyed today — even by the well-known actor and Kentucky native George Clooney.

History of transparent pie

It's assumed that the first versions of transparent pie were created in the frontier days of the 19th century. During this era, homeowners on small rural farms in the Northern Kentucky River Region did not have access to elaborate ingredients but mainly long-store staples like sugar and flour and versatile perishables like eggs and butter. Yet, with just these ingredients, these humble pantries began to turn out some of the region's most beloved desserts, transparent pie among them.

One of the first bakeries to sell transparent pie was Magee's Bakery, located in the Northern Kentucky city of Maysville. In the early twentieth century, many flocked to this establishment to enjoy their transparent pie. For almost 100 years, pie lovers have been pulling up to Magee's, among other local bakeries, to treat themselves to a slice of the fresh and sweet pie. On a visit home to Maysville, Kentucky native George Clooney told Cincinnati.com to drop by Magee's for this dessert and has been an ambassador for this regional pie on movie sets.

However, even if you don't live anywhere near Kentucky, the pie's simplicity ensures that you can create this treat in your own kitchen no matter where in the world you're located.

Ingredients in transparent pie

The ingredient lineup in this pie is very basic, yet it yields a completely unique dessert. if you're interested in making this treat sometime soon, you're in luck. You will likely only need ingredients you already have in your pantry and refrigerator, so start taking notes now.

While similar desserts like sugar pie (which opts for brown sugar) and chess pie (which features granulated sugar) stick to one type of sugar in their recipes, transparent pie features both. The incorporation of equal parts brown and white sugar gives this dessert a one-of-a-kind flavor. Aside from the sugar, the pie's jelly-like filling also features all-purpose flour and salt for the dry ingredients. As for the wet, a few eggs, melted butter, heavy whipping cream, and vanilla extract pull together the pie and give it a translucent, slightly yellow color.

Many Kentucky pie recipes also feature a splash or two of the state's famous bourbon. Transparent pie doesn't usually have that addition,but a small amount doesn't hurt if you're in the mood for something a little boozy. 

What makes this pie unique

If you're looking for a simple yet crowd-pleasing dessert to create in under two hours, then transparent pie is a great option. It's pretty standard as far as filling pies go — you make or buy a bottom crust, combine the filling ingredients, and bake. However, one unique aspect to this pie is how it's eaten. While many pies are best served fresh from the oven or while still warm, transparent pie can be enjoyed either at room temperature or after being chilled in the fridge. The latter will yield a more transparent appearance, and even cold, a heavy-handed helping of whipped cream on top is always recommended.

The ingredients are mainly what separates this pie from other similar ones. Chess pie, for example, features vinegar and cornmeal; the cornmeal gives this pie a firmer and chewier texture while the vinegar tempers its sweetness. Despite the obvious addition of pecans for pecan pie, which give the top a different appearance, the taste of the corn syrup-based filling is similar to transparent pie. 

If you're craving some of this Kentucky dessert, plenty of bakeries across the state dish out their own freshly-made versions of this classic pie, but it was Magee's Bakery who first popularized this decades-old treat. But count on this state's hospitality to neither keep this pie a secret nor guard the recipe, as it can be found on many of the state's tourism sites.