July 12, 2010
I was born and raised below the Mason-Dixon line, which means I have very pointed opinions about very particular things: a woman’s toenails should always be painted, thank-you notes should be handwritten and on personalized stationery, buttermilk and nothing else should be used where biscuits, pancakes, and cornbread are concerned, and clucking your tongue and adding “Bless his/her heart!” to the end of any piece of gossip keeps it from actually being gossip.
Since the first of the month, I’ve been hanging with my mama here in Memphis, my hometown, repository of my nostalgia, much of which is food-related. As the days roll by, I feel my jaw loosen to accommodate my ever-more-pronounced accent, vowels trailing long and lazy. I love the South, and I’m proud to be from here, proud to inherit the way we do things around here, even if they seem nutty to everyone else.
Part of what it means to be a good Southern woman is of course related to kitchen prowess: peas, greens, cornbread, pecan pie, and the like. I’ve recently noticed a little throw-back kitsch to Southern favorites at higher-end restaurants, including a proliferation of lemon icebox pie on dessert menus. Fine by me, except that most of the versions I’ve tried have been sorely disappointing—too sweet and/or no meringue. Sigh. It became necessary for me to figure out how to make my own.
A lemon icebox pie must have meringue! THAT IS HOW WE ROLL DOWN HERE. What else is there to do with the egg whites leftover from making the filling? Please. This pie is not hard to make but it’s so good you might slap yo’ mama. Or at least that’s what we say down here, anyway.
LEMON ICEBOX PIE
The measurements here are generous, since I used such a large pan. You’ll see that my crust is thick, as are both the lemon & meringue layers—I love to fill up my giant spring form pan.
If you only have smaller pie pans (8 inches, say) available, you could certainly make two pies from the ingredients listed here, though they might not be as tall. Personally, I don’t think this pie needs anything extra, but if you want to fancy it up, you could cook some blueberries with a little water & sugar until they burst and give up their juices. Cool, then spoon over slices.
for the crust:
2 ½ cups vanilla wafers
½ cup pecans
6 T butter
pan: 10-inch spring form pan or pie pan, greased
Process all the ingredients together in the bowl of a food processor, until the crumbs are coated with butter. Alternately, you can put the dry ingredients in a Ziploc bag & beat the heck out of them with a rolling pin or frying pan (very therapeutic), then blend in the butter with your fingers.
Press the crust into the bottom of the pan, smoothing it with the bottom of a glass or measuring cup. Set aside while you make the filling.
for the filling:
6 egg yolks (save the whites!)
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
¾ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Beat the yolks & condensed milk together at medium speed until the mixture thickens. Turn the mixer down to low and add the juice. Pour the filling into the crust, then clean the mixer bowl for the final step.
for the meringue:
4-6 egg whites (depending on how high your pan is)
½ cup sugar
¼ tsp. cream of tarter
Using the balloon whisk attachment or an actual whisk & some really impressive arm strength, beat the whites at high speed until they froth and foam. Be patient. After a few minutes, they will begin to form soft peaks—add in the cream of tarter. Continue beating until the meringue has grown considerably, then lower the speed and sprinkle in the sugar a little at a time.
Once the meringue has formed stiff, glossy peaks, fish it out of the bowl & smooth it over the lemon layer. Bake the pie for 20-25 minutes, or until the meringue has browned at the top.
Cool completely on a wire rack before transferring into the fridge. As the name indicates, you’ll need to let the pie chill in the “icebox” for at least 4-6 hours before serving, or you can make it the night before you plan on serving.