Mother’s Day in a Pieshell
My parents spend their winters in Florida and their summers at their home on Lake Huron in Michigan, where I grew up. Somehow, when it is time to make the trek north again, the route from point A (Florida) to point B (Michigan) always passes through southeastern Pennsylvania. (It’s amazing how a straight line can bend when grandchildren come into the picture!)
This past weekend was no exception, with my parents invited to spend Mother’s Day with us. They arrived on Friday, making it through Richmond, D.C. and Baltimore without so much as a whisper of rush hour or what is referred to in these parts as “shore traffic”. They arrived about three hours before they had suggested they might, as they always do, leaving very little time for a last-minute sprucing of the house. Good thing it was myparents; if my in-laws tried that I would choke myself on a toilet brush before letting them see the “before” state of things that sometimes precedes a grandparental visit. However, the house was in pretty good shape. The children were picked clean of any twigs and grass, and I might have even managed to brush my teeth before their early arrival.
On Saturday night, as I was putting my little one to bed, the house quieting down after a day spent riding bikes, planting gardens and making meals, a feeling of immense gratitude came over me. I could hear my mother reading to my older daughter Katie in her room, from a book called The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury. This ritual that they have developed, my mother and my daughter, is something that Katie looks forward to every time my parents visit. My mother can be counted upon to read to her for at least an hour, with Katie prodding her for one more, one more. This particular collection of stories includes “Madeline,” “Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day,” and “The Stinky Cheeseman” among many others.
As they were reading, the glow of the downstairs tv played backdrop to the hushed voices of my husband and father discussing that night’s hockey game. I had a sleeping babe in my arms, rocking gently in a glider. And it occurred to me that generations were gathered under one roof, my roof, that night. Generations that would have an impact on each other for years to come, if only from that one night together.
What I didn’t know is that my mother was just finishing a book contained within the Treasury called “Amelia Bedelia.” Of course, I have heard that character’s name before, but I have never read the book. When I put the baby to bed and joined my daughter for story hour, my mother gave me a quick overview of “Amelia Bedelia,” a thoroughly charming and silly book with one key element:
Lemon Meringue Pie.
Turns out that all of Amelia Bedelia’s antics, which nearly get her fired from her job as a maid, are forgiven in light of the wonderful Lemon Meringue Pie that she makes at the beginning of the story and serves at the end. Katie had never heard of Lemon Meringue Pie before reading this book, which prompted my mother to suggest that we make one.
Following is the recipe of what turned out to be possibly the best Lemon Meringue Pie you might ever make or taste. The best that we have ever made (having never made one before) or tasted (having tasted many). Worthy of parents, Mother’s Day, in-laws, royalty. It was really delicious. And not too hard to put together, provided you’re not chasing two little ones and mollifying two septuagenarians while making it.
Here it is, courtesy of a wonderful cookbook called How to Bakeby Nick Malgieri. (We also consulted the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, a staple in many kitchens, but it was clear just from a cursory reading that this recipe was superior.)
LEMON MERINGUE PIE
1 pie dough for a one-crust pie (these recipes are easy enough to find, so I won’t include his here. I may add another post later for this.)
2 c (whole) milk
2/3 c sugar
3 to 4 medium lemons
1/4 c cornstarch
4 egg yolks
2 T unsalted butter, softened
4 egg whites
2/3 c sugar
pinch of salt
One 9-inch Pyrex pie pan
1. Prepare and chill dough
2. To make filling, combine the milk and sugar in a nonreactive saucepan, preferably enameled iron. Strip the zest from the lemons with a sharp vegetable peeler, making sure you remove the yellow zest but none of the white pith beneath (scrape off pith if necessary). Add zest to milk and sugar and bring to simmer over low heat. Remove from the heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes (no more); remove zest with slotted spoon or skimmer and discard.
3. Squeeze the lemons to make 1/2 cup strained juice (this took us 3 lemons). Place juice in mixing bowl and whisk in the cornstartch, then yolks.
4. Return milk and sugar mixture to a boil over low heat ahd whisk about a third of the boiling milk into the lemon juice mixture (to temper the egg yolks so they don’t scramble). Return remaining milk and sugar mixture to a boil once more and whisk the lemon juice and yolk mixture back into it, whisking constantly until the filling comes to a boil and thickens. Allow to boil, whisking constantly, for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, whisk in butter, and pour into a nonreactive (aka: glass) bowl. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the filling and chill until it is approx. 75 degrees (let come to room temp. if you chill the filling in advance of completing the pie.)
5. Set a rack at the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
6. Roll out the dough to make a bottom crust and arrange in the pan. Chill until firm, about 20 minutes.
7. To bake crust, pierce it all over with the tines of a fork. Line with parchment or wax paper and fill with cherry stones or dried beans. (This is to prevent crust from puffing up while baking. I used a pot lid that is oven safe. Worked great.) Bake 20 minutes, until lightly colored. Remove the paper and beans and continue baking until deep golden brown. Cool on a rack.
8. Spread the cooled filling evenly in the cooled crust. Increase oven temp. to 400 degrees.
9. To make meringue, bring a small pan of water to a boil. Lower heat to simmer. Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer, or if you are using a hand whisk, in another heatproof bowl. Place bowl over simmering water and whisk egg white mixture gently for about 2 minutes, until the egg whites are hot (140 degrees) and the sugar has dissolved. Whip the meringue on medium speed until it has cooled and is able to hold a shape, but it should not be dry. Distribute spoonfuls of the meringue all over the top of the pie, then use the back of a spoon to spread the meringue evenly, touching the edges of the crust all around. Here and there, bring up the surface of the meringue so that it is swirled. Place the pie on a cookie sheet and bake for 5-10 minutes, until the meringue is colored evenly.
10. COOL ON A RACK (The caps are added for emphasis–mine–as we could not wait to dive into our finished product, and the filling had not quite set up. If given enough time, it will.)
Here are some photos of our work-in-progress. This pie was truly divine. Worth the work. I also love that it contains such simple ingredients. Try it! Today!