My grandma Eileen's handwritten lemon meringue pie recipe
One tradition that is in decline in the internet age of food blogs and cooking sites is the handwritten recipe. Both my mom and grandma Georgette have boxes and binders full of old recipes that they or their friends had written on personalized cards "from the kitchen of..." or scraps of paper. I have a few of these binders, but they are mostly filled with printed out recipes from Smitten Kitchen, Epicurious, or some other food blog. Maybe it's just my nostalgic leanings, but it seems that there was once a time when you had a more personal connection with the recipes you used. Instead of celebrity cook Ruth Riechl's spiced chicken or the Barefoot Contessa's spaghetti and meatballs, it was your friend Beth's cheesecake, dad's famous potato leek soup, or your grandma Eileen's lemon meringue pie, even if it was just a special variation on Betty Crocker or Irma Rombauer's well-known recipe.
I don't really remember my grandma Eileen, my dad's mom. She died from breast cancer when I was two years old. I do know that she was from Pittsburgh, of Irish descent, raised four boys, and was a clogger and a partner roller skater. She also clearly made a killer lemon meringue pie, which my dad said he loved, and that it was such a special treat that she would make at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and sometimes Easter.
My mom found Eileen's handwritten lemon meringue pie recipe in one of her aforementioned recipe binders, and suggested I try it when I was home for Christmas. I had a little trouble reading the writing, especially as the paper was worn from years of what appears to be lemon meringue spills and crust crumbs, but my dad was able to decipher it and translated for me. Here's the recipe, with a few adaptations.
My Grandma Eileen's Lemon Meringue Pie
Ingredients for pie:
Nothing-in-the-house pie crust recipe (only 1 crust needed)
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 2/3 c. water
2 Tblsp. butter
1/2 c. cornstarch
4 tsp. cold water
8 Tblsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
5 egg yolks
4 Tblsp. milk
Ingredients for meringue:
5 egg whites
6 Tblsp. sugar
Pinch cream of tartar
1. Crust: Follow instructions for the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust (though halved, as you only need one bottom crust). Chill in fridge for about 1 hr. Preheat oven to 400, then roll out and fit into buttered and floured pie dish and flute edges. You may wish to chill the rolled crust for 10-20 minutes at this point to ensure it does not fall down in the oven. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and bake for 5-10 minutes more or until golden brown and flaky.
2. Lemon curd: Combine sugar, butter, and 1 1/2 c. water in a medium saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. Add cornstarch, blended with 4 tsp. cold water. Cook slowly until clear, about 8 minutes (mine did not get quite "clear" but you will notice it starting to thicken). Add lemon juice and zest, cook 2 minutes. Slowly add egg yolks (save whites for the meringue) beaten with milk. Bring to boiling, then cool. Pour into baked shell and chill.
3. Meringue: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add sugar gradually and pinch of cream of tartar. Spread over cooled filling and brown in oven, 13-15 minutes.
This pie turned out to be a true Christmas day family kitchen collaboration, with my dad helping to read the recipe, me on the crust and lemon curd, my mom tackling the meringue, and even my brother lending a hand to continuously stir the curd while I juiced and zested lemons and cracked eggs--a Christmas miracle!
My mom served up the slices, and we enjoyed it in the living room by the fire, with my aunt, uncle and grandma, after our Christmas dinner.
As I never really knew my grandma Eileen, it felt important to me to be able to read her loopy cursive, similar to my own, try out her recipe, and bring one of her favorite desserts to life at our Christmas dinner this year. My dad said it tasted familiar, and maybe it will eventually become familiar to me too, as much as it was familial this Christmas.