When someone’s turning 91, they deserve the birthday dessert of their choice. On second thought, everyone should get their most-loved confection each and every year! Birthdays are memorable causes for joyous toasts, laughter, and yummy dinners ending with apple pie/chocolate cake/strawberry cheesecake/butterscotch tart and, yes, great coffee. But 91 — wow. Not all of us make it to that special moment and those that do are blessed. My husband’s Dad, Gene, celebrated 91 great years this week and while it wasn’t a huge party, we had a few family members for a roast beef and twice-baked potato lunch (lunch is better these days and he loves roast beef) as well as Gene’s forever fave sweet — Lemon Meringue Pie.
I’ve known Gene for nearly 50 of those 91 years and for each of those 50 years, Lemon Meringue Pie has been his serious pie crush. I also know for a fact his lemon love began long before I knew him. That, in itself, must be a record. Who has the same favorite dessert for nearly all of their life? So I’ve made a few Lemon Meringues over the years — and not all at birthday time — but it has been a while since the last one.
Ok. It’s not that I didn’t want to make that pie, but somehow the opportunity escaped to someone else most years and…to be truthful…Lemon Meringue Pie is kind of a pain in the kabukas to make. As a forever pie baker, I’m a bit ashamed to admit that. There’s the short crust to make, bake, and cool. Next comes the lemon filling to stir together, beginning with a slurry of sugar, cornstarch and water that must cook, thicken, and boil before being taken off the heat (no lumps!!) to add butter, lemon, and lemon zest — and then cook once more. In there somewhere you’ll need to temper the separately beaten egg yolks. Uh huh. Cover it quickly as you’ve got to beat up the meringue (don’t let a drop of egg yolk hit those egg whites!) so you can still fill the pie with hot filling and top it with gloppy meringue in just a minute so the meringue doesn’t separate from the crust and “weep.” Following that, bake again to brown the meringue. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before cutting. So what time in the morning do you start if you need lunch pie?!! If you do it the day before, you have day-old pie, for goodness sake. Oh. Then there’s cutting it so the meringue doesn’t come off the pie and stick all over the knife or pie server. (I’ve tried dipping the knife in water thing.) You can see it’s a bit exacting to begin with. Turn the phone off before you start is my advice.
For more than a decade (?), I’ve instead made this other oh-soooo-lemon-ish goodie (see photo below) and now that I think of it, I could have added meringue, as do many French bakers who make Tarte au Citron. I think it’s easier than American Lemon Meringue Pie, but that’s me. Let’s also admit I developed a bit of a French cooking obsession over the last dozen years or so. My own personal chosen lemon tart recipe comes from one of the happiest writing bakers, Dorie Greenspan, is called Whole Lemon Tart, and is found in her luscious, engaging, entertaining book PARIS SWEETS. Are you a fair-to-middlin’ baker who would like to bake a patisserie-grade sweet? Buy this book and give it a go. Dorie makes everything pretty easy and tres (very) fun. The kindle version is $5.49–a steal!!
"Greenspan learned it from Rollet-Pradier, a famous patisserie in Paris. Instead of making curd, you purée a whole lemon with other filling ingredients and bake — a faster and easier process."
Courtesy Washington Post–January 29, 2021, Olga Massov. The recipe is there, too!
But this birthday was about the pie. THE Lemon Meringue Pie. In fact, living in an airbnb for a month this time around, I had no tart pan and was lucky I had brought a glass pie plate with me. While I had a pie plate, I had no recipe and no cookbooks stuck in my back pocket. (I do have my whole blog and the entire internet, though!) If I’d been home and needed a Lemon Meringue Pie recipe, I’d have dug out the old BETTY CROCKER or FANNY FARMER BAKING BOOK, though I might have checked a newer baking book just to see. So here in Champaign, IL, I just googled, “Betty Crocker Lemon Meringue Pie,” and without a printer, wrote it out longhand. Lord. Here’s why we had so few recipes before computers; we had to hand write the darned things. And then be able to read our writing. I can hardly remember living kitchen life this way, but it went on up until what — 20 years ago? Hence all of our recipes fit on little 4″x6″ or 5″x8″ cards that fit in a tiny box we kept in a kitchen cupboard, didn’t they? Now, when I print recipes from websites, they can be pages and pages long. So much for the paper-free office.
I not only didn’t have a recipe, I had forgotten a rolling pin. Well, a wine bottle would work, wouldn’t it? And so it did.
Then the futziness began:
As did the eating. Quite a while later. I’d recommend making this for a dinner dessert when it’s your turn to bake someone’s favorite Lemon Meringue Pie at birthday or any time. And you better still begin in the morning, as you would with most desserts anyway, right? (If you didn’t know that, it’s a good piece of info to keep in your back pocket.) And a printer? Yeah, use that, too!!
My guess is your loved person will enjoy this just about as much as Gene did. And I know that because he took a piece home with him. (And came back for dinner and another slice tonight.)
Let me hear when you try this:
Click the link in the black box below for the recipe or look it up in your old Betty Crocker cookbook:
Basics: *Read through the recipe well. Plan your timing. Get out all needed equipment and ingredients, including measuring cups, spoons, and small bowls, ahead of time. *Bring eggs and lemons to room temperature before using. * You could make the crust ahead and store it well-wrapped in the fridge (a couple of days) or freezer (six months.) This will save you some serious time. *Serve and eat this pie with a big pot of strong coffee the day it’s made or by the next day. No freezing, but keep chilled anytime you’re not cutting and serving it.
Tips to change it up: *There’s little I’d advise changing unless you’re really familiar with this recipe. You could choose a purchased crust and it would work, but a meringue pie should have a short butter crust if you can manage it at all. *You might add a little more zest for a tarter, zippier filling. This one leans sweet.
Tips to reduce waste: *Lemons — You’ll usually need only 3 large lemons for 1/2 cup juice, the called-for amount in the filling. If you’ve bought more, or chose a bag of lemons as they’re less expensive, store them in their bag (or a bag of your own) in the crisper drawer of the fridge — not out on the counter. Zest or juice can be frozen for another time. I find smaller lemons are juicier. Do juice room temperature lemons or toss them in the microwave for 10 seconds on high to get the most juice for your dollar. *Eggs — The cool thing here is there are 3 egg yolks in the filling and 3 whites in the meringue. Should you want a deeper, thicker, fluffier meringue, add another egg white or two (and another tablespoon or two of sugar as well) and use the extra yolks to add to your morning omelet or for the dog’s breakfast.
If you liked this, you might also like my Apple-Pecan Pie:
LIFE GOES ON:
The current workspace. It’s been beyond nippy and running toward frigid outside that 100-year old window. Even though I was raised in Illinois and know better, I didn’t bring enough wool socks or warm clothes for this. Brr. With a windchill of -20 the other morning, we awoke to no heat in the house. Luckily the stove and coffee maker worked (Thanks, God.) and after several desperate texts to the landlord, we finally got the heat to work by putting new batteries in the thermostat. Who’dve thought????
Thanks for visiting the kitchen in Champaign with me and keeping me company as I shiver. You are appreciated. And… I’m listening to the KC-Cincinnati game as I type. Sheesh. Stay well, be warm, and bake on,
When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there? Thich Nhat Hanh, 1926-2022