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Mile High Lemon Meringue Pie

I finally made a lemon meringue pie, a couple weeks ago, with my mom.

It was delicious.

I’ve found that it’s necessary to be there in the flesh to absorb every step and nuance of a family recipe, because so many cooks don’t remember to tell you every detail. And details can make all the difference.

My mom had a hell of a time getting lemon pie (my father’s favorite dessert!)  just right when our family first moved to the Denver area in the 1970’s. Recipes that called for cornstarch never set up the right way. After many attempts, she came up with this flour-thickened recipe which I made once again today with my daughter. We’ll finish the meringue part tomorrow morning and bring it to our Thanksgiving feast.

Pie crust:

As for any cream pie, you’ll need to bake this pie shell first (after pricking it all over with a fork so it won’t shrink up) for about 15 minutes in 400 degree Fahrenheit oven and set it aside to cool.

I’ve taken to using the Marie Callendar’s frozen pie crusts. They’re a little pricey, but they’re as good as something I can make myself. (No, they’re not paying me. I have no idea who they even are. They’re probably owned buy some monstrous evil mega-corporation like Monsanto or something, but the crusts are really tasty.) The other brands and the store brands are awful- I wouldn’t even think about it. If I made it myself, the crust would contain:

1 cup white all purpose flour

pinch of salt

1/3 cup whatever kind of shortening you choose (I use butter but using half milk-based margarine, e.g, Parkay and half butter can give it a nice long flake and make it less crumbly. Crisco works for fine for texture but it won’t taste lovely like butter will. I’ve heard good things about using a combination of butter and lard from old women who I trust but I’ve never used lard, myself.)

3 tablespoons (more or less) very cold water.

You mix the flour, salt, and shortening with a fork until it’s in little pea-sized lumps and add the water one tablespoon at a time, mixing after each addition and assessing the consistency. Depending on the humidity in your kitchen & whatnot you may need more or less than 3 tbsp. You want it to just start to hold together and be able to be formed into a ball and not totally fall apart when you roll it out.

Take this ball and roll it out on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, quickly and lightly. Everything should be as cold as possible (a marble rolling pin and marble slab for rolling it out work very well to keep everything chilly.)

Once you have it rolled out into a thin circular form which fits your pie pan, gently fold it into quarters to transfer it to your pie pan, then unfold. Use a fork to crimp the upper edges and make everything pretty. Or skip this whole long step where you get flour all over everything in your kitchen use a thawed Marie Callendar crust, like I do. Either way, prick it all over and bake as described above.

Lemon Filling:

1 and 1/4 cup white sugar

1/2 cup flour

4 egg yolks, beaten (separate your eggs and set the whites aside in the refrigerator for making the meringue later. I recommend using really good organic free range eggs for this because the meringue, if you think about it, really isn’t exactly cooked. )

1 cup water

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided in half (about two lemons’ worth)

A teaspoon of lemon zest (the finely grated skin from one of those -washed!-lemons)

5 tablespoons of butter, divided in half

Combine the sugar with the flour in a nice heavy pot and mix it well before adding the water, the beaten egg yolks, the salt, half of the lemon juice (1/4 cup) and half of the butter (2 and 1/2 tbsp). Cook this over a medium-low heat until it’s thick like pudding, stirring the whole time with a wooden spoon. Don’t go off and forget about it. Take it off the heat once it’s nice and thick and stir in the rest of the lemon juice, the rest of the butter, and the lemon zest. Keep stirring it for a good long while as it cools and continues to thicken.

Once this is somewhere between lukewarm and cool, depending on your preference and your patience, pour it into your baked pie crust. Set it aside for a few minutes while you make the meringue that you’ll top it with.


Retrieve those four egg whites from the refrigerator. Mix them with 7 tablespoons of white sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Use an eggbeater or an electric mixer and beat the mixture until medium stiff peaks form; nice and firm and fluffy. Spoon the meringue onto the top of the pie and put the whole thing under a hot broiler very briefly, watching it and turning it the whole time until it’s just beautifully golden brown. It’s hard to not burn your hands while doing this- one of those torches like they have on the tv food shows would probably be great for this purpose. But I really don’t know.

You can serve this warmish pie right away or refrigerate it for a few hours. Be sure to cover the top of the pie with some sort of plastic dome or foil tent if you refrigerate it, though, so the meringue doesn’t get rubbery. The meringue is the most delicate flowery bit of the whole recipe- it doesn’t stay lovely for long.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lefse Recipe

It all starts with leftover mashed potatoes. Real mashed potatoes, not that awful dehydrated stuff. The mashed potatoes need to be yummy in the first place- plenty of butter, milk and salt. Make sure your leftover mashed potatoes are COLD. If you try to make lefse with hot or even warm potatoes you’ll just get a gluteny mess. If you’ve made the potatoes kind of lumpy, you’d do well to run them through a food processor or a blender before trying to make lefse with them.

Measure your leftover mashed potatoes. You’ll add half as much flour as potatoes. I.e., if you have six cups of potatoes, add three cups of flour. Mix this up well with your hands until you have a soft dough. It should be a bit sticky. Now make golf-ball sized balls from the dough and roll each one out thinly on a well floured surface, turning a couple of times during the rolling. You should have a circle about eight inches in diameter. It looks a lot like a tortilla. You’ll have to keep sprinkling in more flour as you roll the lefse and it keeps absorbing flour.

Cook each piece on a hot, ungreased griddle (or an electric frying pan works well) for 30 seconds to one minute per side, till small brown spots appear. If it’s taking longer than this for the spots to appear, turn the heat up. Do not overcook the lefse- it may resemble a tortilla superficially but should remain soft and supple, more moist than dry.

Cool the lefse in single layers- don’t stack it while it’s warm! Once it’s cool, you can store it by stacking each piece with a piece of waxed paper in between. Should keep at room temperature for at least forty-eight hours, but I’ve never seen it go uneaten for that long. If it’s going to be longer than that, you can keep it in the refrigerator for about a week but that will dry it out a bit. Lefse freezes very well.

To eat your lefse: Our favorite is spreading it with butter and rolling it up into a tube. My grandparents liked to eat it with butter and a sprinkling of sugar. It’s a Scandinavian tradition to eat lefse with Lutefisk (cod soaked in lye, yuck!) on Christmas Eve. It’s also good as a wrapping for cheese, smoked fish, or leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

Lefse plays a starring role in my favorite Ole and Lena joke- this particular version comes from Byflist at Blogspot (Thank you!)

Old Ole was in bed dying. Downstairs he could hear Lena rattling pots and pans. Pretty soon he could smell the sweet smell of potato lefse wafting up from downstairs. And Ole thought, “Oh, my darling Lena, she’s making me potato lefse for my last meal before I pass on.”

Ole could hardly wait as the smell kept getting stronger and stronger. But Lena, she never came upstairs, even though Ole thought the lefse should be ready by now. So, with the last of his strength, old Ole rolled outta bed. He crawled across the bedroom floor. He crawled down the stairs, real careful. He crawled across the parlor floor. He could see Lena’s skirt swishin’ by the stove.

Old Ole was nearly delirious by now, so he made his way across the kitchen floor and started clawing his way up the stove. But Lena slapped his hand with a spoon and said:

“Ole! That’s for the funeral!”

(Thanks to Catherine Jensen)