Monday, February 1, 2016

When Life Hands You Lemons ... Make a Lemon Cream Pie

In a previous post, I explained how my wonderful neighbor gave me his bountiful harvest of Meyer lemons and that my daughter and I decided that the end of the saying, "When life hands you lemons" is "get cooking!"

After pickling lemons and making a savory chicken and lemon pie, we wanted a dessert.  We revisited Rufus Estes' Good Things to Eat, which was the book used for the very first post of this blog, Peanut Meatose.

ISBN 0-486-43764-7
Here is an excerpt from that post:
Mr. Estes was born a slave in 1857, was employed by a restaurant-keeper at the age of 16, and then became a cook for the railroads at age 26, where he continued for most of the rest of his life.  His culinary skills were so valued that he was assigned to cook in a special car that catered to celebrities.  Mr. Estes prepared food for presidents, princesses, famous actors and singers, and more.  He was trusted to provide them with a good meal and, upon viewing his recipes, I can see that that trust was not misplaced. 
One thing I like about this book is that it is "The First Cookbook by an African-American Chef."  Mr. Estes says, in his foreword,
This book, the child of his brain, and experience, extending over a long period of time and varying environment, ... The recipes given in the following pages represent the labor of years.  Their worth has been demonstrated, not by experimentally, but by actual tests, day by day and month by month, under dissimilar, and, in many instances, not too favorable conditions.
This man was obviously talented and proud of his accomplishments, and I am grateful he took the time to share his recipes with us.

He offers quite a few recipes that use lemons, including an "old-fashion" lemon pie "because it is baked between two crusts, yet many have called it the best of all kinds."  It actually looks quite simple and I might try it some time.  He also gives a "Large Lemon Pie" recipe, which is what we call a Lemon Meringue Pie.

On page 92, he gives another lemon pie recipe that seems like a lemon meringue pie but is cooked differently.  This is what we decided to try.

Lemon Cream Pie

Stir into one cup of boiling water one tablespoonful of cornstarch dissolved in a little cold water.  Cook until thickened and clear, then add one cup sugar, a teaspoonful of butter, and the juice and grated rind of two lemons.  Add the beaten yolks of three eggs and take from the fire.  Have ready the bottom crust of a pie that has been baked, first pricking with a fork to prevent blisters.  Place the custard in the crust and bake half an hour.  When done, take from the oven and spread over the top a meringue made from the stiffly whipped whites of the eggs, and three tablespoonfuls of sugar.  Shut off the oven so it will be as cool as possible giving the meringue plenty of time to rise, stiffen and color to a delicate gold.
And water
My Notes
For the pastry, we used the same crust recipe I used for the Elizabethan meat pie last March.  It baked with a bottom weight (instead of pricking it) at 425 degrees F in a ceramic pie pan for 8 minutes.

I had trouble getting the cornstarch mixture to become completely clear but it did get thick.  I turned the heat down once it was pretty clear so as not to break the thickening feature of the cornstarch.

The Meyer lemons are small so I used the grated rind of two of them and the juice of three.

The "custard" was runny and we worried it wouldn't set up.

After baking for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F, it was still runny.  Since the crust wasn't very brown, we put it back into the oven for another 10 minutes.  During this time, the filling bubbled and thickened.

At this point the crust was brown and we didn't want it burnt, so we took the pie out of the oven.  The filling hadn't set but we hoped it would after it had a chance to cool.  I had whipped the egg whites and sugar into a meringue while the pie was baking so that had to go into a container into the refrigerator.

The pie cooled a little but the filling still hadn't set so we put it into the refrigerator, too, with the idea to put the meringue on the next day.

The Verdict

The next morning we checked the pie and the filling still hadn't set.  It was too runny to serve as a pie, so we poured the filling into a container.  By the way, the crust had cooked up beautifully and stayed in one piece when we popped it out of the pan.  Heart-breaking! (Tasty, too, later on.)

Tilt and slide
My daughter then made a vanilla cake (thank you, Betty Crocker!), split the layer, poured some filling over the bottom layer, put on the top layer, frosted the top of the cake with whipped cream, and decorated it with fresh blackberries and the lemon filling over the top.

It made for a lovely impromptu dessert and was well-received.  The lemon filling was tart, lemony, and not too sweet.  The little bits of zest were pretty and added a nice lemon burst.

The next day we made pancakes and, instead of syrup, we spooned the lemon filling and a blueberry compote over the top.

After that, we put the lemon sauce and more of the blueberry compote on some lemon scones.

I have to call this recipe a failure because it didn't set up properly to be served as a pie.  I think the problem was that there was not enough cornstarch to thicken the liquid.  The standard is 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 1 cup liquid and, between the water and the juice, we had more than 1 1/4 cup liquid. Next time I would use at least 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch.  Still, I am not sure why this pie needed to be baked after the filling was cooked and thickened.

Finally, I needed to do something with the whipped egg whites I had made the night before.  Sitting had made them separate and they did not look like something I wanted to use "as is."  So I put them back into the mixer and beat them, hoping to get them back to stiff and usable.  I was surprised to see that they could be beaten back to stiff.  Once they were ready again, I spooned them into little piles on parchment paper and lightly baked them into simple meringue cookies.

The nice thing about knowing how to cook is being able to adapt and recover from failures.  : )

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