The beautiful thing about food is how it harkens back so many memories: of far-off adventures, cozy childhood memories, and things we can revisit again, and again in the kitchen. Today, our Editor-in-Chief, Kelley Engelbrecht, is sharing one of her favorite food moments - making lemon meringue pie in her grandmother's California kitchen.
Even though she had a rose garden, the smell of star-gazer lilies always reminds me of being a little girl and visiting my Grandmother in other-wordly southern California. We’d be on the plane for hours, going from Cleveland to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, arriving to what seemed to be a different land. I remember arguing with my mother that California was a different country. With the sun, palm trees and DISNEY LAND, it had to be!
In the back yard, amongst the roses and juniper bushes was a lemon tree. And every summer we’d wait patiently for my Grandmother to announce that it was time to pick the lemons for a day of lemonade and lemon meringue pie with soft peeks of sugary deliciousness.
She’d procure the little handy tool, a broomstick and hook from the hardware store, and we’d run to the tree. To get the good lemons, from the top, you had to shake the branches or take the homemade tool and hook them off. It was our job to scan the ground to find the bright yellow citrus hiding in the shadows, collecting them in our shirts until we couldn’t hold any more.
We couldn’t get enough. These lemons were delectable. So sourly flavorful that it felt like sun was bursting in your mouth. We’d fill cardboard boxes to send home in lieu of checked luggage; my Grandmother would pack them in her suitcase with every visit to Ohio. Each lemon would be individually wrapped carefully in newspaper or tissue and we’d make a ritual out of unwrapping, counting and plotting what to do with our little treasures. For a long time it was lemonade, deliciously sweet and tart. But one afternoon, when I was a little older, my Grandmother taught me out to make lemon meringue pie. It felt like a rite of passage, getting the lemon pudding to thicken before whipping the egg whites into a frenzy to create a dish that was simple, but felt so elegant.
It’s not complicated – but does require a few simple tricks. Here’s what Lucy would want you to know before tackling this recipe:
1. Always (always) remember to temper your eggs. Otherwise you’ll accidently scramble them, and that does not a lemon meringue pie make. Don’t know what tempering means? I’ll walk you through it below.
2. You can use store-bought piecrust, guilt free. A few decades ago, she declared that the store-bought crust tasted just as good as the homemade versions and relieved herself of the painstaking process of getting the dough just right.
LEMON MERINGUE PIE
1 9-inch baked pie shell, cooled
Lemon custard ingredients:
1 ½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
dash of salt
1 ½ cup hot water
3 slightly beaten egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 egg whites
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons sugar
In saucepan, mix sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt. Gradually add hot water, stirring constantly. Cook and stir over high heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat.
Temper the eggs! Rapidly stir in a spoonful of the hot mixture into the slightly beaten egg yolks. Pour egg mixture into the hot mixture. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, adding butter and lemon peel. Slowly add lemon juice mixing well. Pour into the piecrust and set aside.
Make the meringue! Beat egg whites with vanilla and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until stick and closer peaks form and sugar is dissolved. Spread meringue over the filling, sealing to the edge. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 – 15 minutes. Cool before cutting.