Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Grandma's Fresh Lemon Pie

One of the things I love about food is the connections it creates between people.  Around Christmas I wrote about how our family celebrations center on food, but that is just one of the many ways that food keeps us close.  Another way I have been thinking about lately is that food connects us throughout generations- a family recipe can be passed down, and members from different time periods, geographic locations and more can enjoy the same comforting taste.  For example, a shared love of cooking connects me to our Grandmother, even though she and I couldn't lead more different lives.

Grandma is something of a legend in the kitchen.  She grew up during the Depression and raised three children in the post-WWII era on a military income, but still found ways to create recipes using the cheapest meat that were delicious enough to be passed down as family recipes to this day.  Having moved to Arizona for my college days, I have been lucky to be the benefactor of her talents in many ways.  First, as a lonely freshman living off of cafeteria food, I could drive a mere twenty minutes down the road and be certain to be filled with home-cooked, mouthwatering food, as well as lots of love and good conversation.  Second, as I have slowly developed into a cook myself, I've been hoping that if cooking magic is not genetically inherited, it would rub off on me by spending time in her kitchen. Over the years I have been working on gathering family recipes from her (to be sure they are passed down). This isn't as easy as it seems. Grandma has what she likes to call a "one-butt kitchen" (meaning there's not much room for an apprentice-or another master, for that matter). She also has her recipes so committed to memory that her sharing usually involves telling you to put "a bit of this and a dash of that and some of this other thing" in the oven "for about such-and-such amount of time", as most talented cooks tend to do.  My favorite part of getting recipes from her, however, is that each one comes with a story - this recipe came from this-old-friend, and they lived in such-and-such-place together and oh! how the children loved to go to their house and play.

I feel quite lucky, then, to have gotten her recipe for lemon pie for this citrus season.  I actually got this recipe from her twice (I was quite determined to have it in time for lemons) and it is evidence of how deeply rooted in her memory these recipes are that each version is slightly different, and evidence of her culinary skill that each is quite delicious.  I'll share one with you here.

With lemons picked from the tree in my yard (the thing that is currently bringing me the most happiness), this pie was bright and fresh in flavor, and only made more beautiful by my brand new pie pan that Sarah gave me for Christmas.  It was simple and quick to make, and today I called my Grandmother and we chatted about food for awhile and I thanked her for the recipe.  I'm so grateful to be connected to her in this way, and to have her nearby to continue teaching me about food and life and love.

Note: this recipe involves a microwave, but coming from a woman who makes everything from salad dressing to barbecue sauce from scratch, you better believe it truly makes no taste difference and is genuinely much easier this way.


1 pie crust

for the lemon filling:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cup cold water
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 tbsp. butter

for the meringue:
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

for the filling:
Mix and cook sugar, cornstarch and water in microwave 3 minutes at a time.  Remove, stir, and cook again until thick.

Separate eggs, set whites aside.  Beat yolks with a whisk and add filling by spoonfuls until all together. Back in microwave for one minute.  Add 1/2 cup of lemon juice, stir, add melted butter, stir, add to baked pie shell.

for the meringue:
Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff and glossy, add sugar and vanilla just at the end.  Meringue should stay in shape if a spoon is swept through it, or not fall off the back of a spoon held in the air.

Add meringue to top of pie, shape into peaks.  Bake for 10 min.

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