It’s two days before Thanksgiving and I’m at Magee’s Bakery in Lexington, standing in a line that almost winds out the door. As I inch up towards the counter, I pass display cases stacked with pumpkin and pecan pies — but those aren’t the holiday desserts I’m here for.
Bakery operations manager Jason Huff points to another pie on the counter.
“We’re looking at a transparent pie right now,” Huff says. “Which is egg, sugar, butter and a shell arranged perfectly.”
According to Huff, while the rest of the South has chess pies, Kentucky has transparent pies — a creamy, sugary mix folded into a pie shell and baked until slightly caramelized on top. He says it’s a state classic that is equally as popular as their other pies for the holiday season.
I first became aware of transparent pie just a few weeks ago, after I had posted on Facebook asking friends what desserts would be on their Thanksgiving table. There were the expected pumpkin and pecan people; the occasional banana cream and apple. But then, my friend Ryan Coatney, who currently lives in Nashville, simply replied: “transparent pie.”
As a non-native Kentuckian, I had no idea what he was talking about. The first thing to pop up on Google was, curiously, a photo of Kentucky-born actor George Clooney and his wife Amal Alamuddin.
Well, per “Us Weekly,” sometime in 2015 the couple “stopped by the actor’s beloved local bakery, Magee’s” — the original bakery location in Maysville — to order a transparent pie. Apparently, it’s Clooney’s favorite dessert, an assertion Huff supports.
“He’s been to the Lexington location at least once for it,” he says.
I was curious about the pie’s popularity in the non-celebrity sphere, too, so I called up Coatney. He says the only version he ever had was made by his grandmother who lived in Carlisle, Kentucky, which is about 30 minutes away from the original Magee’s location.
“I asked her why it was called transparent pie and she said, ‘Because it disappears so fast it might as well be invisible,” Coatney says. “I’m not sure if that’s really the reason, but it was her story.”
According to “The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky,” her guess is as good as historians’. The pie’s origin is unknown, but it dates back at least several generations.
Coatney says his grandmother always made her transparent pie in mini-tart tins, baking them until there was a distinct sugar crust on top.
“It was like redneck crème brûlée,” he jokes.
Coatney’s grandmother died in 2003, so he hasn’t actually tasted transparent pie since then.
“But I just randomly made a request for my mom to make one,” Coatney says. “So hopefully there will be one for Thanksgiving this year.”