Growing Home: Lemon meringue pie

Cally Hale's lemon meringue pie. (Cally Hale/Montrose Daily Press) 

There are few foods considered more American than apple pie, however, I would argue that another pie has roots even more tightly grown with the founding of the USA: lemon meringue pie.

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was bake with my grandmother. She had a massive collection of cookbooks and recipe cards. I have very vivid memories of one particular day when my siblings were out with my parents and I was spending the day one one one with my grandma. She pulled out her recipe box and asked me to pick something to make. I must have been about 9 at the time and being given the freedom to choose anything I wanted was quite the opportunity. I promptly chose her lemon meringue pie recipe without any concept of how a meringue was made.

I assume my eagerness to learn how to make fancy things is a shared feeling many young people have. It certainly was for the students at Ms. Elizabeth Goodfellow’s cooking school in late 1700s Philadelphia. Goodfellow ran one of America’s first cooking schools for more than 30 years and owned her own high end bakery for over 50. She was particularly renowned for her Spanish buns, fancy sponge cakes and her lemon pudding (pie).

Her confections were very desirable and were featured at dinner parties for all of the Philadelphia’s elite; many of whom were America’s founding fathers. One of her students, Susan Israel Painter, was the daughter of Revolutionary War General Joseph Israel.

Goodfellow did not write down the hundreds of recipes she was famous for, however, many of her students, including Painter, later published cookbooks and have credited Goodfellow with the creation of several recipes, including the one I will be sharing with you all today. Goodfellow is credited for a few lemon pie recipes and each one is slightly different. Due to this, it would be very difficult to prove that Goodfellow invented the lemon meringue pie. However, one recipe in particular uses nine egg yolks, but no whites.

No ingredient ever goes to waste in a chef’s kitchen, especially in the 1700s and 1800s, so the leftover egg whites had to go somewhere. The use of meringue had been documented in Europe as early as the 1600s, it was not linked with lemon pudding or custard until 19th-century Philadelphia. Eliza Leslie, another of Elizabeth’s famous students, and others point to Mrs. Goodfellow using it frequently: she advocated it as a frosting on cakes, as well as topping for custards and pies. Because of this, many food historians credit Elizabeth with the creation of the lemon meringue pie in her shop just blocks from where our county was signed into creation.

The meringue I made with my grandmother was not perfect, it fell a little flat even with a hand mixer, but the pie tasted and I was very proud of myself for the effort and I will always treasure the time I spent with my grandmother. I remade the modern version of the recipes attributed to Goodfellow for our family’s Fourth of July festivities as a nod to it’s patriotic beginnings. We enjoyed this pie on my deck while watching the fireworks this weekend and I hope you enjoy it as much as we all did!

Ingredients:

Pie crust:

• 1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

• ¼ teaspoon salt

• 4 ounces (one stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed

• 4-5 tablespoons ice water

Lemon filling:

• 3 large eggs

• 7 large egg yolks

• ¾ cup granulated sugar

• Zest of 2 lemons

• 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

• 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed

Meringue:

• 7 large egg whites

• ¼ cup sugar

Prepare and pre-bake the pie crust:

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together flour and salt.

Using a pastry cutter, or your hands, cut in the cold butter until the mixture is a coarse crumble.

Sprinkle in water 1 tablespoon at a time and toss together until a dough ball starts to form. Add only enough water to hold the ball together.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before use.

Preheat an oven to 400º F.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface into a round about ¼-inch thick and place in 9-inch pie pan.

Line the pie dough with aluminum foil or parchment paper and gently pour in dried beans or rice to weigh down the dough and prevent it from buckling in the pan.

Bake 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Prepare the lemon filling:

In a stainless steel saucepan, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar and the lemon zest until combined.

Whisk in the lemon juice and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is very thick. When you drag a spatula through it, you should be able to see the bottom of the pot for a few seconds before the curd falls back on itself.

Remove from the heat, pour the curd into a large bowl and whisk in the butter.

Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the curd cools slightly.

Pour the curd into the pie shell, cover with plastic wrap and chill until the curd is cold.

Prepare the meringue:

Preheat the oven to 400º F.

In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer, whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy.

Sprinkle in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time and whip on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Spoon or pipe the meringue over the cooled curd (create a few swirls & peaks, which will look great when browned!).

Bake until the meringue has browned, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Serve at room temperature and enjoy!

Cally Hale’s family has been living in the Uncompahgre Valley for more than 110 years. She learned to bake, can, and preserve food from both her grandmothers. You can follow her sewing and crafting adventures on Instagram @bbtcal.

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