We all love pie in my family and a big tradition when we gather the clan is arguing about the best kind. Everyone has an opinion, especially the children, who never waver from chocolate. Mom likes fresh peach, Dad loves pecan, and my brother wants strawberry – the kind with whipped cream on top. We are so interested in the subject that my mom once received a pie flavor tournament bracket for her birthday and proudly delays it in her pantry.
This is a peculiar family tradition- pie debates- but not out of keeping with our other family tradition of telling what our ideal last supper would be, although we all agree that if we knew it was our last we probably wouldn’t be too hungry. I guess you can tell that all of us enjoy talking about food at any opportunity.
Even the tiny little folk in the family love to play the “pie game,” invented many years ago by my grandfather. This game, where you take turns naming kinds of pies until someone can’t think of a pie, has entertained generations of children who adore how the game dissolves into silly pies like “cow” and “worm”. The game is best enjoyed while swinging on the front porch although it is great to play while waiting out traffic jams too. We even celebrate birthdays with pie instead of cake although we aren’t averse to having both as an option.
If I were forced to give up every pie in the world but one I would have a difficult time choosing but I would probably choose peach. Or apple. Or pecan. My sister, though, is a staunch advocate for lemon meringue and has chosen it for her birthday since she was in middle school. For her, the lemon flavor always wins, hands down and she has a good point. A bite of tender flaky crust, tangy lemon filling and fluffy meringue is delightful. Lemon pie coincides well with her early March birthday when the forsythia and daffodils are in full bloom and we return outside to enjoy the warm spring sunshine.
The trick to a good lemon meringue pie is to cook the filling until it is stiff enough to set up when the pie is cooled so when cutting slices the filling does not run. The recipe I use calls for both flour and cornstarch to thicken the lemon filling. Also, warming the meringue ingredients to match the filling temperature reduces “weeping” when you cut the cooled pie.
Sarah’s Lemon Meringue Pie
1- 9 inch pie crust, baked until golden brown
4 Tablespoons corn starch
4 Tablespoons all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ½ cups water
Lemon zest from one lemon
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons butter
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten, room temperature
5 egg whites, room temperature
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1. Place the egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl and place the bowl in a pan of hot water. Stir until the whites feel warm and then add the salt. Remove the bowl from the water bath and beat with an electric mixer until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Reserve.
1. Preheat oven to broil
2. Mix cornstarch with ¼ cup of the water to form slurry, place in pan and add flour, salt, sugar and remaining water. Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly for 3 minutes or until quite thick – it should hold well on a wooden spoon. Remove from heat.
3. Add the lemon rind, lemon juice and butter.
4. Stir ½ cup of the hot mixture into the beaten eggs very quickly. Add the egg mixture back into the saucepan and stir over the heat for another 3 minutes. Remove and cool a bit.
5. Spread into the prepared piecrust.
6. Spread warm meringue over the filling making sure meringue touches all sides of the crust. Use your spreader to make peaks in the meringue.
7. With oven door open, place pie under broiler and brown the meringue a little. This happens very quickly so watch carefully.
8. Cool and serve.