Lemon Meringue Pie

I've been excited about making this recipe since I found it in the box when I searched through it for the first time-- this is the oldest dated recipe I've found in the box so far, and it's from April/May 1941-- 75 years ago exactly! I love that Eleanor chose to save this recipe-- it's from an ad for The Brooklyn Union Gas Company, promoting gas-powered refrigerators and stoves, and it's just adorably retro, with info on how to measure the heat on your new gas-powered stove, as well as how functional and useful your new gas refrigerator will be (as a sidenote, I've never even fathomed that a refrigerator COULD BE gas-powered, so maybe that's an innovation we've already moved past?).

What I love most about it, though, is the glimpse into pre-World War II 1940s America that it affords-- the ad seems to be pushing the notion that everything in the US is ok almost frantically, reminding the reader that 'approximately 2,000,000 loaves of bread, plus an even larger quantity of rolls, muffins, cakes, and cookies' are eaten by New Yorkers every day, and hyping the affordability and usefulness of the gas ranges, ovens, and refrigerators available to purchase for only '$5 down!' It feels a bit like protesting too much, which makes sense as it was released at a time when the rest of the world was already involved in a generation-altering war and the US was stubbornly trying to pretend like all was well, despite the persistent economic depression and the rest of the world collapsing around their ears.

Eleanor would only have been 20 when she came across the ad, probably having just moved out on her own for the first time, and I love that it somehow stuck in her recipe box for 51 years, through countless moves, a marriage, two kids, and literally thousands of meals. To me, it speaks of aspiration, hope to grow up and have a kitchen of her own where she could take advantage of her regular paychecks to buy herself a cutting-edge gas-powered refrigerator and make whatever desserts she wanted, and maybe even hope for a time after the war ended, when rations would be gone and she'd have access to all the eggs, fruit, flour and butter she wanted. It's still spotless, though some of the creases have started to tear, which leaves me wondering how often she actually made the fish pie or this lemon meringue pie on the recipe card, but the fish pie was incredible and the lemon meringue pie, though not the easiest recipe I've ever made, was the perfect cool, tart-but-still-slightly-sweet dessert for this time of year.

I always assumed that Eleanor would have made tons of lemon-based desserts once she moved to Florida, where citrus grows wild and she had a giant grapefruit tree in her own backyard, but then I remembered what happens to meringue in Florida, and it's not a pretty sight. Picture 80% humidity, no air conditioner, and a dessert that needs to stay perfectly dry in order to be crisp. It's no wonder I had never tried meringue until I was 28 years old and moved to Scotland. So maybe this wasn't Eleanor's go-to dessert after moving to Florida in the late 1950s, but she had already been carrying this recipe around for nearly 20 years by then, so who knows-- maybe this was her favourite dessert to make on hot New York summer nights when she was a single girl younger than I am now. I may never know the answers to that, but I do know that this pie is delicious and you should totally make it for your next barbecue shindig.


The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. The pie itself deserves more, but the crust was a bit tougher than I wanted it to be, and making a meringue really stresses me out, even though in this instance it came out just perfectly.


One year ago: Perfect, Crustless cheesecake

the recipe:

Lemon Meringue Pie

the directions:

Preheat oven to 225C/450F.
Sift together flour and salt.
Cut in 1/3 c shortening until mixture is the consistency of coarse cornmeal.
Cut in remaining shortening until particles are pea-sized.
Sprinkle water over dough, 1 tbsp at a time.
Work lightly and quickly with a fork until mixture forms a mass that leaves the sides of the bowl clean.
Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Divide in half, roll on lightly floured board, place gently in pie pan, line with parchment and weigh down with beans or pie weights, and bake 10-15 minutes until golden and cooked through.
(Freeze remaining dough for another occasion).


Mix sugar, 1 ½ c water, and salt in a double boiler or over very low heat.
Cook until mixture boils.
Whisk cornstarch with remaining water until smooth, then add to syrup and cook for 20 minutes.
Beat egg yolks in a separate mixing bowl.
Pour sugar mixture slowly over egg yolks, whisking constantly to avoid eggs cooking.
Return mixture to double boiler and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add butter and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.
Add fruit juice and zest.
Pour into baked shell, place in refrigerator, and prepare the meringue.


Preheat oven to 160C/325F.
Place egg whites in bowl of electric mixer and add salt.
Beat until stiff, but not too dry.
Add sugar slowly, one tbsp at a time, beating at high speed constantly until mixture is glossy and forms stiff peaks.
Spread on pie and bake about 15 minutes, until meringue is crisp to the touch and slightly brown at the edges.

the ingredients:
the crust*:

2 c flour
½ tsp salt
2/3 c shortening, divided
2 tbsp water, very cold, approximately


the filling:

1 c sugar
1 ¾ c water, divided
1/8 tsp salt
5 tbsp cornstarch
2 egg yolks, beaten well
1 tbsp butter
5 tbsp lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 lemons


the meringue:

2 egg whites
Very small pinch of salt
4 tbsp sugar
*Crust makes enough for one double- or two single-crust pies.