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~ My Love Affair w/Lemon and Lemon Meringue Pie ~

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d731445970dEveryone who knows me knows that when given a choice between a chocolate dessert and a fruit dessert I will always choose the fruit dessert.  That being said, if lemon meringue pie is one of my fruit dessert choices, I will choose it every time.  025600007037Even as an child in elementary school, everyday, I picked the Tastykake lemon pie over the two-pack of chocolate cupcakes for my Barbie lunchbox. Then, when I entered Junior high (this was before in-school cafeteria lunch programs and they let us kids out on the streets of downtown Tamaqua, PA to eat in the restaurants) I would walk across the street to Wenzel's bakery and order two lemon Danish.  I would meet my school pals, we'd sit on a park bench under a tree, and, while they were eating their pizza or burger, I was eating my lemon Danish.

6a0120a8551282970b0168eb7e9a02970c-800wiIn my high school years there was Leiby's Restaurant and Ice Cream House.  It was founded in 1965 and closed its doors in 2007.  It was a family restaurant where kids loved to go, and, as teenagers, a parent-approved hangout.  A lot of my friends waited tables there during the high school years.  While the food was very good the desserts made the place famous.

6a0120a8551282970b0167667cdb6e970b-800wiI couldn't tell you how many "Atomic" sundaes I "split" with friends over the years (a banana split containing 32 ounces of ice cream), but Leiby's pies were legendary.  They were sold out of a "pie room" (containing nothing but pies) and at Christmas, a section of the restaurant was cordoned off just for pie pickup.  My favorite:  Leiby's Lemon w/Mile-High Meringue.

PICT0002When I graduated from high school and was driving to business school, early every morning, 3-4 of us would meet at a little breakfast shop for homemade, seasonal pie, coffee and "study group".  When lemon meringue pie was being featured, that's what was on my plate for breakfast every time.  The reason I give for this love of lemon:  it's either inherited or learned behavior because my dad is the EXACT same way about lemon pie.

PICT0005When I got married and moved to State College, PA in 1974, the very first dessert (besides cookies) that I ever baked from scratch was lemon meringue pie.  That's not to say I didn't know how to bake, because I did.  It just so happens that I wanted lemon meringue pie, and, I had no family heirloom recipe for one. Mine came straight out of the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking, p. 657, which I bought while I was at home on maternity leave prior to the birth of my son. Everything I cooked from this book was so successful, it just inspired me to cook more.

PICT0003Even back then, at the ripe old age of 21, I was meticulous about neatly penciling in notes, directly on the pages of my cookbooks, to ensure that I would get the result I wanted, each and every time I cooked that recipe.  "Post-it Notes" became available in 1980, and to this day, 32 years later, the same ones are still marking the pages in a lot of my cookbooks... which says alot about the quality of this product.

As you'll see below, I haven't changed the original recipe very much at all.  I wanted more lemon flavor, so I doubled up on the lemon juice and zest, and, I added a touch of lemon oil too.  I wanted my pie piled high with meringue, so, I double that quantity too.

Part One:  Blind-Baking the Pie Pastry

6a0120a8551282970b01538fb34ac1970b-800wi 6a0120a8551282970b014e89a63519970d-320wiThe first thing you are going to need is a 9" pie pastry that has been rolled, fitted into a 9" pie or quiche dish, trimmed and decoratively edged.  

You can find my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~ in Categories 6, 15 or 22.

PICT0024 PICT0016The second thing you need to do is blind-bake ("prebake") the pastry. In the case of lemon meringue pie, this step is necessary because the pie filling is precooked, meaning: the finished pie will not be in the oven long enough to cook the pastry. You can find my detailed instructions for ~ How to: Blind-Bake a Pastry Shell ~ by clicking on this link.

Part Two:  Juicing and Zesting the Lemons

PICT0003Step 1.  Prior to juicing the lemons, here's a tip:  If you place them in the microwave for about 15-30 seconds, they will soften up and become juicier!

~ Step 2.  Using any type of juicer you have on hand, or just your hands, one at a time, slice 5-6 lemons in half and juice them, until you have 1 cup of fresh lemon juice. Discard any seeds:


6a0120a8551282970b014e60507913970c-320wi~ Step 3.  You are also going to need a minimum of 1 tablespoon of lemon zest for the pie filling, which is essentially the:

zest from 1 lemon  

Choose any lemon you want, and, just prior to juicing it as directed above,  use a microplane grater to remove the thin layer of pretty yellow outside zest.  If you end up with more than 1 tablespoon of zest, use it.  It will just add extra flavor to the pie filling.  Set the zest aside. 

Part Three:  Making the Pie Filling

PICT00012  cups sugar

8  level tablespoons corn starch, firmly packed

1/4  teaspoon salt

1  cup fresh lemon juice, from 5-6 lemons

1/2  cup cold water

4  large egg yolks, at room temperature, reserve the egg whites for the meringue topping

2  cups boiling water

2  tablespoons salted butter, sliced or cut into cubes, at room temperature

1  tablespoon lemon zest, reserved from above lemons

1/2  teaspoon pure lemon oil

PICT0014 PICT0007~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan, whisk together the sugar, corn starch and salt.  Whisk in the lemon juice and cold water.

~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Whisk them into the sugar/lemon juice mixture. Set aside.

PICT0023 PICT0021~ Step 3.  In a 1-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Remove from heat.

~ Step 4.  Over no heat, very slowly, and in a thin drizzly stream, whisking constantly, whisk the boiling water into the sugar/lemon/egg yolk mixture.

PICT0053 PICT0036~ Step 5. Place the mixture over medium-high heat. Add the butter.  Over medim-high heat:

~ Step 6.  Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, to avoid scorching.  As mixture begins to thicken reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest and lemon oil.

~ Step 7:  Gently pour the pie filling into the prepared pie shell.  Place the filled pie on a cooling rack and set it aside for 30-60 minutes, to cool slightly.  During this time the pie filling will lose its wet glossy appearance and look "dry".  When it comes time to spread the meringue on top of the pie, this "dry surface will help the meringe to ahere to the pie:  

PICT0068Part Four:  Making the Meringue

PICT0004For the meringue:

4  large egg whites, at room temperature

1/2  teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

PICT0009~ Step 1. Place egg whites in a large bowl. On medium speed of electric mixer, beat until frothy.

PICT0019~ Step 2.  Add the cream of tartar. Increase the mixer speed to high and continue to beat until stiff, but not dry, peaks form.  Lower mixer speed and gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla extract, beating until just incorporated.  Do not over beat.

~ Step 3.  Using a large rubber spatula, drop large scoops of meringue evenly over the top of the pie filling.  Distribute the meringue around, while at the same time "fluffing" (pulling the side of the spatula upward) to form decorative peaks.  Note:  Make sure to adhere the meringue to the decorative edges of the crust when distributing it.  If it is not adhered to the edges at all points, it will pull away from the crust during the baking and cooling process:

PICT0036~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 10-12 minutes, until meringue is nicely browned, watching carefully after 8 minutes of baking time, as the meringue can and will go from browned to burned quickly.  Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely, 3-4 hours, or longer.  Refrigerate, uncovered, untill well-chilled 3-4 hours or overnight (overnight is best) prior to slicing and serving chilled:

PICT0022My Love Affair w/Lemon & Lemon Meringue Pie:  Recipe yields 1, 9" pie or 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9" pie dish, or quiche dish; rolling pin; kitchen shears; parchment paper, or aluminum foil; pie chains, or pie weights; cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; citrus juicer; 1-cup measuring container; microplane grater; 4-quart saucepan; 1-quart saucepan; whisk; hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula  

PICT0004Cook's Note:  For another one of my beloved lemon recipes, you can find my recipe for ~ When Life Hands You Lemons:  Make Lemonade! ~ in Categories 10, 16 or 20.  I've been told I make the best lemonade lemon lovers have ever tasted.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


Anemarie -- I am certain your sister will be pleased!

My sister has requested a lemon meringue pie for her birthday. I'm going to give this receipe a shot....I pray it works....she is very very particular.....wish me luck. Ann

Penny -- You are too funny. Marilyn is a close personal friend of mine, from my high-school days. So glad your pie turned out so well. Your friend from Pennsylvania. ~ Melanie

Sorry, I mistyped your name from the prior conversation with Marilyn ! My elevator doesn't go to the top floor.

I made your lemon pie yesterday with some Meyer lemons that my friend gave me. Turned out yummy ! Thanks for all of your careful instructions - I need them !!!
Your friend from California,

Marilyn! Your comment made my day! If you want a couple of other fun Tamaqua stories, click into my recipes for Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding (it's about The Royal Restaurant), and, Texas-Style Chili Dogs and Chili Sauce for Hot Dogs (it's about The Texas Lunch)! Thanks again for the wonderful comment!!! ~ Mel.

Mel, with this post you have taken back to a time in life that was so simple and sweet. It reminds me about all the good things about Tamaqua. I especially remember 7th grade in the OLD junior high, by the Schulykill River. Was it the Royal Restaurant right next to the school? I think our classmates Craig Turapk's family owned it. Wenzels had the most delicious cream doughnuts, that oozed perfect pudding type filling, with the first bit. Besides Leiby's pies and atomics, remember CMP's? Still my favorite sundae. No one here has a clue about what they are. They were pretty good at Heislers dairy bar too! I love your pic of the Tastycake lemon pie. My Dad and I would fight over those. When I visit my brother in Middletown, I stock up on them. Anyway, I am ranting here, but I am so glad you are sharing these musings. I will make your lemon meringue pie for Labor Day. I am hosting a birthday party for my good friend, who turns 60 on the 6th! I think I should do a "test" pie in case I screw it up! Many thanks again Mel, your the best!!!

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