Cooking, eating, making sweeping pronouncements

Posts tagged lemon meringue

7 notes

Pie-O-Rama: The Ancestral Lemon Pie Recipe

It’s so pretty!

I made my great-great-grandmother’s Lemon Pie recipe for this July’s Pie-O-Rama.* It is actually a lemon meringue recipe, and making it involved not just the actual text of the recipe (which my grandmother wrote up) but two separate calls to my mum for further discussion, explication, and historical context around the text.

At one point, my mum described her mother holding the pie under the broiler to get the peaks to brown attractively. I had two almost-simultaneous reactions:

  1. That is excessive and unreasonable.
  2. That is a fairly good way to ensure that the peaks brown attractively if you don’t have one of those little creme brulee blow torches.

It’s good to know I come by it honestly.

I also cross-referenced the lemon meringue pie recipe in the Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe cookbook. If you are committed to making an old family recipe, I would highly recommend not cross-referencing the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, because it reads like some kind of undermine-y frenemy telling you all the ways your recipe could go wrong (they find the custards made with water “one dimensional” and give extensive warnings regarding the potential for the meringue to “shrink, bead, puddle, deflate, burn, sweat, break down, or turn rubbery”). If you were pregnant, Cook’s Illustrated would tell you about the time their cousin was in labor for four days and had an epidural that didn’t take and how if you have a c-section you won’t ever bond with your baby.

In any case, after a fair amount of consternation, I had a “jesus take the wheel” moment and decided to just follow the family recipe, shrinking/puddling/deflating/sweating be damned. And it seemed to go really well! I made the pie crust and lemon custard the day before, then made the meringue while the oven was pre-heating, all based on first-person accounts of what my grandmother used to do. The custard chilled overnight, and the pie crust was just loosely wrapped and left on the counter. The pie came out of the oven with lovely browning around the edges of the meringue.

So…this is where I would put a beautiful picture of a slice of pie looking all lovely. However, when I cut into the pie, the lemon custard oozed all over the place. It was really, really disappointing. I think I may not have left the pie to cool enough? I mean, it was still delicious, but just…disappointing. I’m going to chill the pie a bit and then report back.

[Reporting back: I chilled the pie all day and the custard has set more, but it’s still quite soft. I also discussed at length with my mum, and we came to the conclusion that I may not have cooked the custard enough. Dave has tried it, though, and reported that it was very good, and not too sweet, and he didn’t see the issue with the oozing, which he’s basically paid to say, but is still very nice.]

Oozing. You can also see how the bottom edge of the meringue is pulling away from the crust as a result of the oozing.

Less disappointing was the pie crust. It was tender and delicious and buttery and so flaky. Guys, the bottom crust of the pie was so flaky. I cannot remember the last time I ate a pie that had a flaky bottom crust. I don’t know that I have ever eaten a pie with a bottom crust like this. This is why you make your own pie crust; it is not possible to buy a pie crust as wonderful as this one was. I want to marry it. It almost made up for the oozing custard.

The meringue, meanwhile, did everything right.

Lemon [Meringue] Pie

([Great-Great-] Grandmother Parker’s Recipe)

  • 1 baked pie shall (9 inch)
  • Juice and grated rind of 1 large lemon
  • Yolks of 2 eggs and 1 whole egg
  • 1 1/2 level Tbsp. of cornstarch
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water

1. Lightly beat eggs and add to juice, rind, and sugar.

2. Dissolve cornstarch in 1/4 cup cold water and then add 3/4 cups boiling water, the salt, and butter. Cook over low heat until the cornstarch has become clear and shiny. [My cornstarch never became clear and shiny, so I finally gave up at shiny and translucent instead of white.]

3. In the top of a double-boiler [or a mixing bowl over a pot of water] combine the two mixtures and cook, stirring, until a spoon drawn through the mixture shows the bottom of the pan. [I’m used to making custards just on the stovetop, not in a double-boiler, so this took longer than I expected, but was a bit more foolproof. One thing to watch out for if you’re using a mixing bowl— you won’t really be able to see if a spoon drawn through the mixture shows the bottom of the bowl, so you should either be familiar with cooking custards, or test by dragging a spoon down the side of the bowl. This could also be where I messed up and should have cooked the custard more, although it did seem pretty well set when it came out of the fridge.] Chill thoroughly. This is a thick but soft filling. [Is “thick but soft” code for “your custard will ooze”? Is that what’s happening here? Upon further conversation with my mum, no, the pie is not supposed to ooze.] Do not put in shell until shortly before serving.


  • 6 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 egg whites beaten with 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

[I also added an 1/8 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar as a measure of insurance]

1. Have whites at room temperature to insure loftiness. Beat egg whites until they begin to foam. Gradually add sugar while beating. Add juice. Beat until the meringue stands up in high firm peaks. Do not under beat.

2. Pile meringue on the filled pie, being sure it touches the rim of the shell all around. Have surface high and rough. Bake in a 350° F oven until brown. (15 min. approximately) Keep out of draft until ready to serve. [I departed slightly from the recipe here and cooked it in a 325° F oven for 20 minutes.]

Frances Parker Faxon

* Once a month, a set of Portland, ME food bloggers write about a coordinated topic. This month we’re writing about pie. In the past, we’ve covered lobster rolls, chowder, strawberries, soup, eggs, and reviewed cookbooks. You can find links to all the posts at the Portland Food Map website.

Filed under o-rama pie lemon meringue disappointments