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.”
Check out the Food Timeline for history on almost every food imaginable, including lemon pie.
What’s your favorite dessert, birthday treat, or everyday sweet? Email a recipe or two (include your name and full address with each recipe) to email@example.com, and we may print them online or in a future issue of the magazine. Thank you for helping to make Recipe Box a success.
• Randy Dowdy, Lovelady, Texas, writes, “My Depression-era mother, who was born and raised in Kansas, made a graham cracker pudding that contained graham cracker crumbs, eggs, milk and coconut, as best as I can remember. It was baked like a sheet cake and was moist and light.”
• Shirley Wahl, Bismarck, North Dakota, hopes to find a sweet roll recipe similar to that served some 50 years ago at the lunch counter of Ellison’s Department Store in Minot.
• David Simons, Rome, Pennsylvania, is looking for a Lithuanian recipe called Farmer’s Cake. The ingredients include grated potatoes and bacon, and the dish is baked. His mother, who was Lithuanian, made this during his childhood, and the recipe has been lost.
• Marva Proffer, Clarkston, Michigan, remembers a recipe found in Capper’s magazine a number of years ago for a Peach Cobbler. She says it had 3 cups sliced peaches, and the slices were dipped in milk and then a flour mixture. Brown sugar dissolved in warm water was poured over the peaches in a casserole baking dish.
If you’ve been looking for a long-lost recipe, or can provide one, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Recipe Box, c/o GRIT Magazine and CAPPER’s, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. Email is our preferred method of communication, and requests and submissions will be more likely to be answered in a timely fashion if sent electronically. Please include your name, address and daytime phone number on any correspondence. Recipes cannot be returned; we will forward the first 10 recipes to the person who made the original request, and then file the rest for possible online or print publication. Addresses are not printed to allow us the opportunity to publish recipes before sending them on to the requesting party.
Associate Editor Jean Teller hopes to one day replicate those delicious lemon meringue pies her mom used to create.
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