Recipe Box: Lemon Meringue Pie and More

Treat the family to a lemon meringue pie, Spanish rice, icebox cake or a special orange pancake syrup.


| July/August 2014


Birthdays in my childhood home involved laughter, love and cake. In my case, it was chocolate. But my father? He changed it up and asked for lemon meringue pie.

My mother easily accommodated any request, and her cakes and pies were works of art. We all loved Mom’s pie crusts, which were delicate, flaky and delicious. When filled with that beautiful lemon pudding — her lemon curd was out of this world, too — the pie crust was doubly delicious. And when the filling was topped with mile-high meringue tipped golden brown from the broiler — well, it didn’t get much better than that.

Dad devoured that pie with relish, and the rest of us weren’t far behind.

The lemony treat, however, hasn’t been an American mainstay for all that long. While pies — in every shape, size and filling imaginable — have been around since ancient times (the word “pie” shows up in the early 1300s), lemon meringue pie didn’t make its appearance until the 19th century, often under other names.



Lemons have been around much longer than that, of course. Early Europeans valued the juice as a condiment, especially for fish, and the grated or candied peel as a garnish. The juice was also used as a cure for scurvy for early explorers. Legend has it that the fruit shows up in Florida, after Columbus’ arrival. California was known for growing lemons in the mid-19th century, and writers began mentioning the fruit in the later part of that century. In the early 1900s, lemon juice became readily available.

Meringue was perfected in the 17th century in Europe, after years of using whisked egg whites in other dishes, and the word first appears in the 1706 dictionary The New World of English Words. This delicacy can sometimes be difficult to perfect; my mother despaired when her meringue weeped. This occurs when the sugar isn’t dissolved completely or when the filling is too moist. Using plastic, wet or greasy bowls can also deter the meringue from forming stiff peaks; adding cream of tartar or cornstarch will help stabilize the egg whites, thus lessening the possibility of “tears.”







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