It’s not a pretty sight. I’m lying on the couch in a crumb-puckered bathrobe and an inside-out nightshirt with a 10 pound cat nailed to my chest by his 1 inch claws. Bad news is flung all about. Reading newspapers and tuning in to CNN/MSNBC/Fox News throughout the day is decidedly not good for one’s mental health.
“I can’t think of one lousy thing to write for Recipe Monday!,” I say to the husband. He shoots over a diagnostic glance from the safety of his chair across the room.
“You’ll come up with something,” he says and goes back to his reading.
Literary wise, though, I can’t imagine one damn thing to contribute to the world that hasn’t already been said by more talented writers. I can only muster mere snippets about how the pandemic seems to be generating an uncommon amount of empathy and kindness. In my little corner of a hard edge city, we are getting to know our neighbors more. While skirting around each other, we call out hellos and cheers for good health. We’ve become very aware of the imperative to care for our most vulnerable, overlooked, citizens–those who are homeless; elderly; without health insurance; unemployed or stuck in jobs with low wages or shaky security. We’re appreciating those who are putting themselves in danger just to make sure our markets are replenished, packages delivered and cities and towns remain functional and safe. Most of all, we’re expressing deep gratitude to the medical professionals and scientist who are selflessly striving to see us through. Under our collective panic and stress, a sense of fellowship seems to be taking hold–fragile maybe, but there.
Which is where lemon meringue pie comes in.
Years ago, Stephanie sent a nice note after reading my book Pie Every Day. We’ve never met–there’s approximately 1,244 miles between where she lives in Wisconsin and my address in Brooklyn. What I know about her is through her Instagram and Facebook posts. I envy her thrift shop and antique store finds, adore her photographs of old churches and houses in the fading Midwest, mourned when her rooster died, turned very jealous of her vegetables and husband’s maple syrup harvest. Our similar food sensibilities once led to the proposal that we jump in a car together and eat our way across the country. Most of all, she has the ability to brighten my day with her sharp wit and down-to-earth world view. In other words, our relationship was a thin contrivance, nothing of real meaning.
Then, last week, Stephanie let loose on the difficulties she had in voting in the Wisconsin primary after she didn’t receive her requested mail-in voter form. By any measure her battle to preserve democracy and her citizen’s rights was a rousing read.
I rarely comment on her posts but this one was so admirable and meaningful to me that I told her she was my hero. She wrote back, “I’m jonesing for lemon meringue pie!”
Now, stuck as I am on the couch, what she said ping-pongs in my brain. The husband has long disappeared to start his day. Even the cat has abandoned me.
Why lemon meringue pie? Why not, for instance, chocolate pie which, to my mind, hits a lot more comfort levels.
But, then, consider lemon meringue’s insubstantial appearance, its wobbly baby-chick yellow filling under delicate white fluff. Is that the reason why Stephanie could be hankering for the pie’s bright flavor? Might be and, if so, I get it–understanding that it’s a zap of spring, a possible harbinger of sweeter times.
“I’ll put on the coffee if you bring the pie!” she said. And there it was, despite 1,244 miles between us, a come-in-your-crumb-puckered-bathrobe-and-inside-out-nightshirt invitation to share a slice of pie and coffee. Just between friends, taking a bit of a pause from life together.
I roll off the couch, stamp over all that bad news and take down the cookbook to make the pie.
Put on the coffee, girlfriend. I’ll be right over!
Best-Ever Lemon Meringue Pie—A Farm Journal 5-star special
The following recipe is from the Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Book (1965), a book that inspired me to write about pies and their abiding place in our lives. It’s more or less the standard one but with one exception and it’s important. It calls for mixing 2 tablespoons of the meringue into the lemon filling before pouring it into the pie shell. It makes it so much lighter than all the others.
Baked 9″ pie shell
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup water
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
Combine sugar, water and salt in saucepan; heat to boiling.
Mix cornstarch and water to make smooth paste; add to boiling mixture gradually, stirring constantly; cook until thick and clear. Remove from heat.
Combine egg yolks and lemon juice; stir into thickened mixture. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture bubbles again. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and lemon peel. Cover and cool until lukewarm.
For meringue, add salt to egg whites; beat until froth. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar, beating until glossy peaks are formed. Stir two rounded tablespoons of meringue into lukewarm filling.
Pour filling into cool pie shell. Pile remaining meringue on top and spread lightly over filling, spreading evenly to edge of crust.
Bake in low oven (325 degrees) about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on rack at least 1 hour before cutting.
Flaky Pastry for 1-Crust 9 ” Pie
(Farm Journal‘s Traditional Method)
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening or 1/3 cup lard*, cut into pieces
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons cold water *
Combine flour and salt in food processor. Sprinkle shortening bits about and pulse 4 or 5 times until the flour looks like it has the consistency of course cornmeal.
Turn the processor on low and quickly begin to add water, one tablespoon at a time until the flour begins to come together in a dough.
Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a ball while wrapping it. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
*I always use lard–it just makes for a flakier crust. Also, I have never met a pie dough that didn’t need more water than what was called for in a recipe. Use your judgement–you don’t want it too gooey or too dry.
To Make a Baked Shell
Roll out dough and place in pan. Prick the entire surface evenly and closely. Refrigerate about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bake the pie shell from between 10 to 15 minutes or until browned the way you like it.