Thursday, March 16, 2017


Last week, CoolGuy spent several hours doing one of his specialties: fixing up one of our vehicles. He knew that the truck needed a new power steering system because he'd seen a leak while he was changing the oil the week before. This required some ridiculous effort: jacking up the front end, rolling around under there on his mechanic's cart, and using (what looked to me) every wrench he has in his tool box. He got the old part off, took it up to the auto parts store, and came back with a new set-up (which cost nothing because--WARRANTY!--(this is the second one he has replaced) and then went to work hooking up the new system.

It is always a wonder to watch these automobile repairs. He doesn't just see a truck: he sees all the systems and what they are supposed to look like, feel like, sound like, and can tell when something isn't just right. I get into the seat every morning, turn the key, the motor purrs to life, and I head off on my day, never giving it a second thought. Thanks to the amazing brain of CoolGuy, I never think about my transportation systems, except to buy more gas.

What does this have to do with pie, you ask? Well, I realized that I needed to do something special to show my admiration and appreciation. The solution: lemon meringue pie; home-made lemon meringue pie. I bought the lemons, I went home and got wrapped up in some other project that was pressing, and failed to get the pie made. So I took care of it today.

Last night, I got home and decided that now was the time. I pulled out the flour, butter, and Crisco and got to work on the shell. I was interrupted over and over by texts from various church people while we sorted out some Primary business. I finally got it all baked and cooling on the table. But, by then, I realized that I couldn't go on with the filling, because it was definitely time to eat dinner, and then get off to bed.

Tonight, after tutoring, I headed home and got started on the rest of the masterpiece. The only reason why I am successful at making homemade lemon meringue pie is that I watched my mother make them at least once a month while I was growing up. It is a massive undertaking. If I hadn't seen the process from beginning to end, over and over, I'm not sure I'd have ever been able to accomplish it.

First, it takes a ridiculous number of pots, bowls, spoons, spatulas, measuring spoons and cups. It also requires a few specialty items such as a lemon juicer, and a lemon peeler/scraper thingy that lets you get fine bits of lemon rind off the lemons before you juice them. You need a mixer, and a pie plate, and -- according to my mother's version -- some coconut to sprinkle on the meringue before you bake it.

So, you make the pudding, and then stir it and stir it, and then you mix up the egg yolks with a little hot pudding to carefully change their temperature and not have them curdle, but instead cook in smoothly. Then there's the butter, and the lemon rind, and the juice. Stir it all together, and pour this carefully into the cooled, cooked pie crust you made earlier.

Next: meringue. Who knew all the little details? My mom always used eggs that had sat around for a week to make lemon pie meringue. She said that new eggs wouldn't whip up as well. Then, when I was in Home Ec in high school, the teacher pointed out that we should use fresh eggs if we wanted to be successful in creating a really fluffy meringue. I was puzzled, so I raised my hand. "My mom says that eggs have to age a little to be best for meringue." The teacher just smiled, and told me that my mom's version of "fresh" eggs was quite different from grocery store "fresh." She knew my mother had a coop full of chickens. Ha ha!

So, here's another thing: did you know that it is easier to separate cold eggs, but best to have the whites at room temperature for whipping? you separate the eggs at the beginning of the whole filling-making process, and let those whites sit around on the counter in their mixing bowl during the time it takes to create the lemon filling; they'll warm up a little. Then, after you've whipped them to a fluffy, creamy looking froth that billows up in the mixing bowl, it is time to add the sugar...very, very carefully. Dribble it in very slowly as the beaters keep churning that fluff. One tablespoon at a time, slipping off the measuring spoon ever so slowly. This allows it to be incorporated thoroughly, dissolving into the wet fluff. This is how you avoid "weeping" meringue. That is when moist drops appear on top of your pie after it all cools off. Yes, it is the little things.

Finally, the sugar is all stirred in, and you lift the beaters out of the bowl raising big drifts of meringue on the top of the pile. Now, it is time to place it on the hot filling---hot filling is how you help the meringue to stick to the pie edges. Also, you must spread the white fluff completely to the edges of the crust, actually having a little of it spread just onto the crust. Do all the edges first, then pile the rest into the center. I actually use three yolks in the lemon filling, but I put four whites into the meringue so I'll have plenty to pile high. Sprinkle a little coconut all over, and gently carry the quivering masterpiece to the oven. Bake the meringue till it is nice and browned, and then ever-so-carefully lift the magnificent creation out, and place it on a rack to cool.

While the meringue bakes....wash dishes. You'll be astonished at the pile you've generated. Like I said, if I had not watched my mother whip out these pies (it takes a few hours between making/baking crust and then the filling/meringue and baking it some more...) I do not think I'd have ever attempted this culinary delight. But, watching her accomplish all those steps, (usually while also combing our hair, browning the roast, and sticking her own curler-wrapped hair into the warm oven to hasten its drying) I knew the sequence, and the little details that ensure success of the elaborate process. It is totally worth it, too!

 It is a decidedly ephemeral creation, too.We manage to consume it all in the 24 hours after it is made. When it gets more than one day's not that great.
CoolGuy always appreciates the effort, and I told him I appreciate his mechanical skills, and that is why I decided he deserved lemon meringue pie. (Plus, I get to eat it, too!!)

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