Pie will always remind me of my Grandma Marr, Louise.
Some of my earliest memories of her are of her making pies. Mixing the crust dough by hand on the 1940’s enamel-top kitchen table, her fingers deftly working the ingredients, a dance punctuated with light sprays of flour. She could do it all by feel, never bothering to measure out the ingredients, she had been making them pretty much all her life.
Her kitchen was a room frozen in time. All the furniture and fixtures were the ones she and my grandfather originally furnished the house with when they bought it in the late 1940’s. It was cozy, not much in the way of counter space, just enough room to move around in, and invariably where we always congregated when visiting her.
Many of our trips to see her up in Connecticut were around Easter. That’s probably why I particularly remember her baking with the kitchen window open. Soft spring air filtering into the room scented by the lilac bush just outside the window. Lilacs, lemons and apples are scents I always associate with her… along with Ponds cold cream, which she used religiously.
Although I love just about any kind of pie (who doesn’t?), lemon meringue and apple will always be my favorites – they’re the ones grandma made. What’s better than taking a bite of lemon custard that’s just the right balance between sweet and tart, topped with gloriously light meringue with toasted peaks, and crumbly crust melting in your mouth? The answer: nothing.
I’ve spent a good part of my adult life trying to make pies that come even close to my grandma’s. Of course, nothing ever will. I gave up the ghost of recreating her pie exactly years ago. Instead, I finally decided to take those delights and make them my own. I’ve tried to capture the essence of her pies, and think I managed to do pretty well.
A big help was finally realizing that grandma’s pie crust was basically the Crisco pie crust recipe. When making pie crust from scratch it’s the only one I use, although I’m still working on getting just the right feel for the dough when mixing it. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it will take time and lots of practice to get it perfect. Of course, I’m not shy about using store bought frozen crusts when in a hurry – sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!
I’m including a link here to the Classic Crisco Pie Crust recipe , in case you want to give it a go and try making it completely from scratch. For this pie be sure to use the single crust recipe.
Either way, I hope you’ll give this delicious pie a try and it will help conjure some sweet memories of your own. In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of lemons, lilacs, and my grandma’s hands.
- 1 C. White granulated sugar
- 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
- 3 Tbs. Cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 C. water
- 2 lemons, juiced and zested
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 4 egg yolks, beaten
- 4 egg whites, room temperature
- 6 Tbs. granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- First, pre-heat your oven to 450. Once you’ve made the dough, or defrosted your store bought pie crusts, pierce the dough in the pie tin all around with the tines of a fork, making sure to get all around the bottom and along the sides of the crust. This will keep your crust from bubbling while baking. Then bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Be sure to check it after about 7 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn. Then remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- Now turn your oven down to 350.
Note: If you made your dough from scratch and have any trimmings left over don’t throw the dough away! My grandma always made little pie crust cookies by rolling out the remaining dough into strips and sprinkling them with some granulated sugar and cinnamon. It’s a nice little treat for the kids, or yourself. Just bake them off with the crust. Be sure to check about 5 minutes in to be sure they don’t burn. You just want them crispy and a nice golden brown.
Lemon Custard Filling
- Begin making your lemon custard filling by whisking together the sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan.
- Over medium-high heat, stir in the water, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Be sure to keep whisking frequently until the mixture comes to a boil. Then stir in the butter and whisk until it’s melted and incorporated in.
- Put your beaten egg yolks in a small bowl, and slowly add approximately 1/2 cup of the sugar mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly. This is tempering your eggs so they don’t turn to scrambled eggs when you add them to the sugar mixture, and helps them incorporate smoothly.
- Now whisk the tempered egg yolk mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the sugar mixture, incorporating completely. Bring to a boil and stir constantly until the mixture is a nice thick custard consistency.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the lemon custard into the pre-baked pie shell.
- In a large glass or metal bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy.
- While continuing to whip, add the cream of tartar, then the sugar, gradually adding a teaspoon at a time, until all is incorporated.
- Keep whipping the egg whites until stiff peaks begin to form. Now add the vanilla and stop whipping once the egg whites form stiff, glossy peaks.
- Pour the meringue on the lemon custard in the pie shell, and using a rubber spatula, spread the meringue evenly around the pie, all the way to the edges, completely sealing the custard underneath.
- Using your spatula, create soft peaks from the meringue all over the top of the pie. How high a peak is entirely up to you. I like to go big. I think it gives it a nice rustic look, and allows the peaks to get good and toasted.
- Bake for approximately 12-15 minutes, or until top of meringue is a soft golden brown.
- Allow pie to completely cool and serve.