When Frankie Dunn, the Clint Eastwood character in the movie Million Dollar Baby, searches for something real, good and sweet in a gloomy, far from perfect world, his sunny answer to the darkness is Lemon Meringue Pie.
I can understand that. Considering only its virtues as a dessert, Lemon Meringue Pie is a triple-textured wonder of smooth, thick tangy custard, soft, sweet foamy top and toasty-tasting, crumbly crust.
But its emotional pull says more. Lemon Meringue Pie is a symbol of what’s okay. In our busy, crazy world where we talk on the phone as we keyboard on our computer and listen to TV pundits in the background or, heaven-forbid, where people text and drive and where the political discourse has become rabid and ugly, it is among those simple comforts that reassure us that life can be all right, even when you’re feeling miserable, angry and vulnerable.
It’s fast-paced and sophisticated out there, even in the food world. Chefs and food magazines offer us things like Caramelized Orange Napoleons with Toasted Pecan Dust or Lavender-Ginger Panna Cotta with Pomegranate-Balsamic Glaze. But that’s not the kind of food you eat when you’re feeling down, stressed or lonely. At those times you want stuff that sustains you heart and soul.
When I was in the third grade we had a class cookbook project. I asked my mother to submit her recipe for Apple Pie, thinking it was the best anyone ever made (I was right). She said no, that it wasn’t good enough. Instead, she gave me her recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie. Because it is so special. It makes you feel better when you’re feeling terrible. And, by the way, it’s pretty good when you’re feeling terrific too.
Mom’s Lemon Meringue Pie
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups water
4 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 fully baked pie crust
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine 1-1/2 cups sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan. Place the pan on the cooktop over medium heat an gradually add the water, stirring the ingredients to keep them smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for one minute. Beat the egg yolks slightly in a small bowl. Gradually stir about a half cup of the hot mixture into the yolks. Pour the heated yolk mixture into the saucepan. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the butter, lemon peel and lemon juice. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Whip the egg whites until they are foamy. Add the cream of tartar and whip until the whites stand in soft peaks. Keep whipping, gradually adding the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, until the mixture stands in stiff peaks. Spread this meringue mixture over the pie, making sure to cover all the lemon filling to the inner edges of the crust. Bake the pie for about 15 minutes or until the meringue has browned slightly. Remove the pie from the oven and let cool. Makes one pie serving 8
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