The best thing about summer is fresh squeezed, ice cold lemonade.
Okay so maybe there are lots of “best things” about summer. The beach, the sun, vacations, my freckles coming out, flip flops, the luxury of laying on a blanket in the grass & reading, barbecues, fireworks, me running through a sprinkler like a 5-year-old, etc. But lemonade has to be one of ‘em. Ice cold lemonade with slices of fresh lemon in it. Actually… anything lemon reminds me of summer. Something about those bright yellow slightly oblong orbs sitting in a bowl that reminds me of sunshine. And versatile, too; pop a slice or two in some plain homemade iced black tea, a glass of Pellegrino, seltzer or even just ice water, and it changes everything. Serve some wedges with grilled shrimp or fish, or sprinkle some zest over pasta tossed with ricotta cheese & olive oil as a quick meal. And don’t throw out a leftover lemon (once you’ve used the zest and juiced it)- cut it up and use it mixed in a spray bottle with regular white vinegar as a great household cleaner. You can even freeze lemons. Needless to say, there are always plenty of them around here.
It might have been because of that fact that for my mother’s birthday (which was yesterday), instead of a traditional birthday cake or even cupcakes, she requested lemon meringue pie. I never made it before, but I had made that pineapple pie, and it was a similar concept. I was still nervous about it but I kept thinking of that pineapple pie, and how good it came out. That and, let’s face it, meringue loves me. Well, meringue loves Lola, that is. Anyway, it turned out really good (my mother agreed with the author’s statement that it is indeed the best lemon meringue pie ever). I used the recipe from my “go-to pie book”; Sweets: Soul Food Desserts & Memories by Patty Pinner. Why is that my go-to pie book? Because nobody, NOBODY, makes pies like Southern women, that’s why. If they can’t do it, no one can. Same goes for cobblers, crumbles, fried chicken and biscuits. Mmm, biscuits.
Anyway… my mom’s birthday.
Yeah. So when it came to making the pie, I was nervous as hell, truth be told. I had all sorts of visions of my meringue not setting and my pie filling being like soup. Especially with my pecan pie failure still looming in the back of my brain, and the weather we’ve been having which is basically hazy, hot & humid. But I knew I could trust that cookbook. If the weather was on my side, and I did everything right, I knew the book would see me through.
I have a sort of love affair with Southern things. Let’s get one thing straight first: I’m a 100% certified (and bona fide) city girl, and an even bigger bona fide Northerner. I had a great-great-great-grandfather who fought for the Union in the Civil War. I do not think “the south will rise again”- at least not in the way most people who say that phrase actually mean. But that said, I love a lot about Southern life, or country living. As much as I love urban living, and apartments in Brooklyn with uber cute balconies or terraces or even fire escapes for container gardens and exposed brick walls, I dream just as much about living in a house like Sookie Stackhouse’s on True Blood. Maybe even a smidge more so. I mean- yes, it’s fictional. But have you seen that kitchen?! It’s huge! And it has a farmhouse sink. Be still my heart. So yeah, I dream about big country houses with wrap-around porches, kitchens with lots of windows and room for all my jars and baked goods and lots of yard space for gardening. Or I dream about living down there and having my own version of the Whistle Stop Cafe from Fried Green Tomatoes, but with more baked goods and less racist assholes frequenting the joint. I love old country music, not the new drivel like Taylor Swift or Kellie Pickler or Rascal Flatts- the REAL shit, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, etc. I love Paula Deen, and her accent. I love sweet tea. I love pecan pie, shoo fly pie and coconut custard pie. I also love fried chicken, fried pickles, and… well… in reality, I love fried anything. But I could never fully leave the city, or stop living close enough to it to take it in whenever I want. I guess maybe my ultimate dream would be to have the city home and the country home, and divide my time. That way, I’d get the best of both worlds, and I could always pack up and flee to one when the other got to be too much for me. Flee to the country when I want to make pies with fresh berries or take it easy on my wrap around porch, smell fresh cut grass, drink lemonade from a Mason jar, and listen to crickets… and then flee back to the city when I miss the museums, fashion, nightlife, tall buildings, concrete and sounds of the traffic. The country can get way too quiet for me. I get antsy if I don’t hear sirens, car alarms or horns honking all night.
Enough dreaming. What’s with me today? This post is about pie, & my mother’s birthday… not me & my future dream homes. This ain’t HGTV, it’s Food Network. Sheesh.
The pie was a success, despite my initial freaking out. I’m going to give you the recipe for the pie here, but not the crust. That’s pretty simple to find, though, and you probably already have one. The pie is time consuming, with a lot of steps, but worth it. Trust me. Lemon meringue pies are impressive pies. Even if it’s not visually perfect, you’ll impress everyone if you make one.
LEMON MERINGUE PIE (from Sweets: Soul Food Desserts & Memories by Patty Pinner)
- 1 baked 9″-inch pie crust
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 3 egg whites
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Prepare the pastry for a 9″-inch single pie crust. Bake it in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is set. Remove the crust from the oven and set it aside.
- Make the filling: add the cornstarch, sugar, flour and salt to a large, heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in the water, and cook over medium heat. Whisking constantly, cook until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Boil while stirring vigorously for 3-8 minutes; it’ll turn “clear and uncloudy” in appearance. Take the saucepan off the heat.
- Place the egg yolks in a bowl and, using a fork, beat them well. Gradually stir half of the sugar mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the sugar mixture and return to a boil over medium heat. Decrease the temperature to low, cooking and stirring for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Stir in butter, lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix well. Pour the filling into the prepared and baked pie crust. Set aside. Leave oven on.
- Prepare the meringue: blend 2 of the tablespoons sugar with the cornstarch and cold water in a medium saucepan. Stir it until the cornstarch dissolves, then add the boiling water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the mixture is thick and clear. Take off the heat and let the mixture cool completely.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. Adding them one at a time, add the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar. When those are done, add the pinch of salt and vanilla. Beat at high speed for 2 to 3 minutes, then continue to beat until they form stiff and glossy peaks.
- Spread the meringue over the lemon filling to the edges of the pie crust, covering the filling completely. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the meringue is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
Alright so… the pie came out great. My crust-making is still kinda shitty, but you know what? I don’t really care. I’ve come to the realization that it doesn’t really matter. Maybe the rustic, rough look is better. It all ends up in the same place, right? And the thing I was most worried about, nobody even noticed. Not one person said, “This pie tastes great, but boy, you don’t know how to fold a pie crust for shit, Marilla.” So why do I stress it? I don’t know. Same reason I used to have wastepaper baskets overflowing with drawings I didn’t deem worthy of finishing. I need to stop, even though all I see when looking at some things are my mistakes. Big, glaring mistakes. *sigh* It’s hard being a perfectionist.
But my meringue- as you can see- turned out beautifully. As always. My meringue is always rockin’, it seems. As a matter of fact, I think my meringue could redeem any failure. I could put a big dollop of meringue on just about any baking mistake and it would automatically become wonderful. Not that this pie was a failure! I’m just saying. A heaping pile of meringue makes everything even better.
I served it up with some Davidson’s Hibiscus Flower iced tea, which was amazing (remember it from this post?) and of course, a pink candle! Happy birthday, mom, thank you for everything you’ve done for me for the past 30 (almost 31- eek) years. I love you! I hope you had a fantastical birthday… and enjoy the rest of your pie.