Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Piece of Lemon Meringue

Bad Postcards
Doesn't that pie on the left look amazing? That is just how I like lemon meringue pie because I always think the meringue is the best part of it. I've never made one of these pies but I've had a special request for one so I will be giving it a try pretty soon. It is just the sort of pie to serve in the summer, maybe after a barbecue.

It is quite wonderful and I wish I could go to Lucille and Otley's and have that pie. They were in Boynton Beach, Florida from 1948 to 1998 but this 1988 ad says they started in the town of Briny Breezes in 1935. Bad Postcards is one of my favorite Tumblrs, by the way, and I recommend that you check it out if you love retro postcards as much as I do.

So I got to wondering about when lemon meringue pie was first made. Lemon meringue pie seems to have been invented just after the Civil War - the first reference I found in a cookbook to it was from 1871. They also made Lemon Meringue Puddings back in the Victorian era, which were breadcrumb-based and baked, after which the meringue layer was added and you put the pudding back in the oven for a final browning.

Unfortunately in 1879 "several persons" ate lemon meringue pies from a bakery and were taken ill because the baker used a "cheap yellow dye" called "dinitro-naphthol." One of the customers took the baker to court and was awarded $1000. The Chicago Medical Journal noted that "persons who are fond of lemon meringue pie, if they go by the verdict, must look out for dinitro-naphthol in their dessert." It was reported in Boston in the same year that people were getting sick from verdigris poisoning - this time it was the meringue in their pies that was the culprit. All the more reason to bake your pies at home, back then.

The most interesting lemon meringue recipe i found isn't a pie at all but a sort of summery trifle (I always think of trifle as strictly a winter, holiday dessert). It is from the wonderfully named cookbook, Par Excellence: A Manual of Cookery, created by the ladies of the Church of the Epiphany in Chicago in 1888.

To make this, you sliced up a large sponge cake and put it into a deep glass bowl. Then you poured a cup of warm milk over it. In a separate bowl you made up what sounds like a basic vanilla egg custard and cooked it until it was thick, then poured that over the cake. Finally you made a batch of meringue flavored with lemon extract (I think they mean juice extracted from the lemon, here) and lemon zest and put that on top. The recipe is here if you want to try it out.

But if you just want to make the classic pie like me, you can use this retro recipe from a 1957 Pillsbury ad.


Poppy Crocker said...

The meringue makes the pie look like it has a shark fin!

Lidian said...

Poppy - I know, that's just what it looks like!

Winding Ways said...

"Lemon extract" is an alcohol-based flavoring, similar to the way vanilla extract is made.

vanilla said...

My late m-i-l always made the lemon meringue pies for any family "event." When she entered her 90s, her daughter, my spouse, asked for her recipe. "No, I can still handle it." When she died at 94, it was our lot to go through her things. We found the lemon meringue pie recipe. It was identical to the one printed on the side of the Argo cornstarch box! Sure do miss Grandma's l-m pie, though.

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Lidian!

I see you "met" Poppy. Isn't her blog just our "style," lol...I can't say as much for that first picture though. My goodness, what were they thinking?

I can't make a Lemon Meringue Pie to save my life. Good Luck with yours. That recipe is a time tested recipe. Let us know how you do:)

Lidian said...

Winding Ways - Oh yeah, so it is, thanks! I don't see it very often in the grocery store but maybe it was more common back in the day. Or maybe I am not hitting the right grocery stores ;)

vanilla - Even if a family recipe is just like the one from the box, it is special, I think. I was just looking at some of my mom's old handwritten recipes and they are sometimes pretty standard but they are so special to me :)

louise - Yes, I did and I visited her amazing blog too and am now a great fan! I will let you know how it goes for sure. Now I actually have an iPod with a crummy camera (that I love, because I am a Luddite and never had my own little camera thingie before - I know, I know!) now I can take shots of what I make ;)

mamafrog said...

Our family always had the discussion between the lemon pudding type and more of a lemon gel, which I always preferred. It always seemed to have more of a lemon taste than the pudding type. I don't know which type the Argo Cornstarch, my recipe came out of an old Betty Crocker recipe book.

Lidian said...

mamafrog - That seems to be the main filling debate for this pie...I have a feeling my family will prefer the puddingy filling, I think they associate gel fillings with store-bought pies, which except for pumpkin, have tended to disappoint.