Lemon meringue pie = Father’s Day
My dad had a sweet tooth – a miserable thing for my mom, who didn’t really like to bake. That is, it required a recipe, and extensive time in the kitchen – two things she had no use for, really. (But could she dance! – as did my dad – that’s them above, at a wedding. The cap he’s wearing is an inside joke.)
So once I was “of age” – around 8, I began to bake. Pleasing my dad with goodies was a high point of my cooking. I was, after all, the quintessential “daddy’s girl,” even if he tried his best to raise me as a tomboy. I was taught to fish and work on things with my hands and build things.
I can still throw a mean cast net and in a pinch, clean an old-fashioned carburetor. And thank heaven for his teaching – no man in my life has ever been able to fix my small appliances — so I do it. It vexed him that I spent so much time with my nose in books; he wanted me to have hands-on learning, and so I did.
Mom’s pie – from a box
Of all the sweets Dad loved, pie was his favorite. And of all the pies I baked for him through the years, chocolate cream and lemon were his two favorites. I’m quite sure coconut cream was in that top three, but it wouldn’t be until after his death 18 years ago that I learned to make that sinfully rich variety.
Of course, my mom did bake for him occasionally, but took the easy way out. She’d get a box of My-T-Fine pudding and pie filling. It had a capsule in it as I remember (My-T-Fine has been off our shelves for decades) that dissolved as you cooked it.
This was the only “boxed” filling she and my dad liked, so mom kept a shelf full at the ready, though mostly, she used it as a pudding. Pie took too long.
A cookbook discovery
Then here I came, with my bookwormy ways, exploring cookbooks (!) – the very few my mom had in the house, that is. They were Thermadore cookbooks – they came with the 1956 appliances put into the famous tract houses of these SoFla neighborhoods when they were built. She had the books stuffed in a kitchen drawer that held all the “junk” – that tells you how seldom it was referenced.
There was a pie recipe in the oven one – for lemon meringue. It called for egg yolks, and real sugar and lemons – oh, the thrill! I got it out one day and decided to make it, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Meringues – trouble in an eggshell
It was from the first pie I baked from that book that I learned the tricks to making a pie crust, and a meringue — though not from the book. The crust I got right from the start, but a neighbor stepped to teach me - after a dozen egg whites had gone down the sink, and my tomcat Jinx was woozy from eating the surplus yolks – that you must gradually add sugar, or the whites won’t whip. (It’s a wild story for another day.)
Needless to say, the cookbook was sparse in its directions.
Just to be sure – second helpings
Once I mastered it, I would bake this pie for him for every Father’s Day, and every birthday thereafter. And once, when he helped me buy my first car (a Datsun 1200 – with a 1.2-litre engine and manual tranny all so I could drive like a maniac).
If Dad were here, I’d be making that pie today. It would be served on the round oak pedestal dining table in my dining room that he refinished numerous times (after burning it with his Lucky Strike cigarettes). He’d probably say, as I brought it out of the fridge, “Looks like a good ‘un, don’t it mama?”
After a bite, then, “That’s purty good pie, doll. I think I need me another piece — just to be sure.”
To those who never met him who are reading this – I’m so sorry. You missed knowing a “good ‘un.”
Old-fashioned Lemon Meringue Pie
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 2 lemons, zested, seeded and juiced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 4 egg yolks, separated
- 1 (9 inch) pastry pie crust, baked
- For meringue:
- 4 egg whites (from above)
- 6 tablespoons white sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium double boiler, whisk together 1 cup sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in the water, lemon juice and lemon zest. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil.
Place pan over bottom of double boiler, and stir in butter. Place egg yolks in a small bowl and gradually whisk in 1/3 cup of hot sugar mixture to temper the egg yolks. Whisk egg yolk mixture back into sugar mixture.
Bring double boiler to a boil and continue to cook yolk-lemon mixture on top, while stirring constantly until thickened, from 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
Make meringue: In a large glass or metal bowl, whip egg whites until foamy, but not dry. (Tilt pan to get all of egg whites.) Keeping mixer running, add sugar gradually, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue over pie, making sure meringue touches all edges of crust to seal the pie, to prevent shrinking.
Bake in center of preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown. Remove carefully and cool on counter for 15 to 20 minutes before refrigerating until completely cold.
Makes 8 servings.