painting of lemon pie and blue teapot

Lemon Sponge Pie, 8″ x 8″, gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

My late older brother ate pretty much the opposite of what I eat. He ate a lot of fast food, quick food and processed food. He drank mugs of coffee laced with up to a quarter cup of sugar, minus what he spilled on the counter. He liked raw carrots and celery and fresh strawberries, but he only ate those things if someone else washed them, cut them up and put them in a bowl for him, preferably on the counter where he could see it. The only other vegetable he consumed regularly was onions, although he once ate seven jars of marinated artichokes out of the case Mom gave him on Christmas Day. In the fruit category he liked raisins, strawberry milk and blueberry pie.

In the last year of his life, Kevin had an experience that improved his diet slightly. He liked to tell the story. His then girlfriend, Barbara, who would become his wife, had a cat named Jigs. Jigs looked forward to Kevin’s visits because he nearly always brought bags of fast food with him. One day Kevin arrived with a McDonald’s bag, containing a cheeseburger and an order of Chicken McNuggets. Kevin broke  open a McNugget and gave it to Jigs. Jigs sniffed it, immediately commenced to try to bury it and walked away, insulted. Kevin said, when he told the story, that if a cat wouldn’t eat something that was supposed to be chicken he wasn’t going to eat it anymore either.

Michael Pollan has famously given us the guideline not to eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. We hew pretty closely to that in our household these days, although we each have our indulgences: we buy Prego spaghetti sauce because Mom made her own for years and we can honestly say we like Prego better. I particularly like the Italian sausage flavor. We use it for quick suppers. Sometimes I add fresh summer squash or mushrooms or eggplant to the sauce, but sometimes I don’t. Beyond that, my personal weaknesses are for Cheez-It crackers and Golden Grahams cereal. I know I can make cheese straws, but I love Cheez-Its  right out of the box. I don’t buy them often. Golden Grahams are even less defensible — they are tooth-achingly sweet and taste like candy: to be able to eat them at all, I mix them half and half with some healthier cereal — anything not sweetened — and eat them with almonds. I allow myself about one box a year, on sale only.

To me, scary food does not mean food that appears to be dripping blood or cupcakes accented with spiders: scary food means food that has been so processed that it does not resemble the original food it came from.  An order of Chicken McNuggets is a good example, but so is anything labeled “cheese food” or  “pasteurized processed cheese,” as well as white bread from the grocery store. There are many more examples: please feel free to tell me about your personal food horrors in the Comments. Perhaps I’ll put up a link called “The Horror Roll” and list some of your candidates there.

Halloween was Kevin’s birthday. There is nothing he liked that I cook on a regular basis and if I shared one of his “recipes” you would stop reading this blog. Seriously. Instead, I’ll share with you a favorite family recipe that my mother made yesterday with ripe Meyer lemons from our neighbor’s tree and her famous Swedish pie crust. For your convenience, I’ll give you the pie crust recipe below, but I’ll spare you the editorial commentary: for the full rant on pie crust, please visit the Gravenstein Apple Pie post. Meanwhile, get ready to make a Lemon Sponge Pie, which is much like a lemon meringue pie, except that you fold the egg whites into a lemon custard, which includes milk. If you like lemon desserts, you will want to try this.

Make the crust first:

Sift 3 cups unbleached flour with

1 tsp salt

Cut in 1 cup Crisco (or other vegetable shortening) until it is the size of peas. Add a little butter (1-2 Tbsp for flavor).

Break into a one cup measuring cup:

1 large egg. Beat it until blended.

Add to egg:

1 Tbsp white or cider vinegar

Add water until combined liquids reach 1/2 cup, plus a little.

Add liquids to flour, salt, shortening and butter. Stir together crust and form it into a flattened round. Cut 1/4  from the round — this is your crust for this lemon pie. Wrap the other 3/4 crust in waxed paper and store it in the refrigerator for your next pie or quiche (Crust recipe makes 4 single crusts or 2 double-crust pies).

Pat pie crust into a circle on a floured work surface. Roll it out, making sure to roll in all directions and roll out any thick edges. When you think you are done set a 9″ or 10″ pie plate on top of crust. Adjust as needed: you need to roll this crust very thin for best results.

Transfer your crust to your pie tin. The classic method is folding the crust into quarters and unfolding it in the tin.

Now preheat your oven to 400 degrees or 350 if using a Pyrex  pie plate. Proceed with filling.

Pie filling:

Separate 2 large eggs, whites into a small mixing bowl, yolks into a larger one.

Beat the egg whites until fairly stiff. Leave beaters in place and change to larger bowl.

Beat egg yolks with:

1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour.

Zest 3 or 4 lemons over the bowl of egg mixture. Squeeze juice from lemons into bowl — you need at least 1/3 cup of juice.

Fold egg whites gently into the other ingredients and pour filling into your prepared crust. Transfer the pie to the oven. Keep an eye on it —  you are going to bake it for about 25 minutes, but this pie burns easily. If you are worried about it, put a strip of foil over the crust. Bake until filling is not sloshy. Allow to cool to lukewarm — if you cut it too warm, the filling will run and you will have pudding with crust rather than pie.

Like it? You can bake three more with the crust you now have on hand, or you can make quiche, apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie — whatever you like best.

Food Note: I use Meyer lemons in this recipe because we grow them. Eurekas or other tart lemons are fine, but don’t go above 1/3 cup of juice with them: Meyer lemons are sweeter than other varieties.

The Horror Roll: To nominate candidates for  “The Horror Roll,” please list foods or “foods” that scare you by their apparent deviation from real food in the Comments section. I’ll start a “Horror Roll” page soon with some of the most horrendous nominees. In fact, I’ll start it now. Check it out.

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