Come summer, my choice of flavors turns from chocolate to lemon. Hot climates stir up appetites for spicy food, so I’m guessing the tartness of lemon also cools the body and soul.
After barbecue, lemon ice is soothing. The fish fry ends perfectly with a lemon pie. And, a late breakfast on a summer weekend gets no better than scones with lemon curd.
I was checking for blooms on what I call our citrus orchard in the back yard of our River Ridge home. The “orchard” is the size of a large room, but we now have two Meyer lemon bushes and small red navel, blood orange, grapefruit and lime trees. If they grow to be huge, we’ll have to call on Dan Gill for advice, but so far I’m fascinated with their small crops in the fall and winter as well as their ornamental beauty. If only the lemons corresponded to my summer appetite. Thankfully, lemons are always available from somewhere as are other citrus fruits, although usually at higher prices.
I have a friend in Atlanta who eats lemons like most people eat apples. She comes here every Thanksgiving and flies home with bags of Meyer lemons. I remember when chefs started using them on a large scale about 20 or more years ago. They turned up on menus not only in desserts, but also in sauces for fish and shellfish. Agricultural scientists began promoting them with local farmers and their popularity took off. The Meyers have thinner skins, are less sour and contain more juice. They originated in China and are thought to be a cross between a true lemon and either a mandarin or common orange.
I love all lemons in desserts, so my summer appetite isn’t squelched by the timing of our crop. When it comes to limes, I’d just a soon make my Key lime pie with common limes as with the Florida variety. That pie is another great summer dessert – especially after fish on the grill.
If you’re weight conscious, summer is the best time to eat desserts because you’re swimming and sweating and burning more calories. At least, that’s one of my many rationalizations for eating desserts.
I have been asked about the difference in lemon custard, as for a pie, and lemon curd. It difference is that lemon custard is made with milk and usually a thickening agent such as cornstarch of flour, while lemon curd is made with butter instead of milk and is thickened with eggs. Generally, more lemon is used in the curd, making it tangier.
And the difference between lemon meringue pie and lemon icebox pie, is that the meringue variety is usually made with a custard filling while the icebox version uses sweetened condensed milk. Also, the eggs are separated for the meringue pie and the whites whipped for topping, whereas the icebox pie is crowned with sweetened whipped cream. I make lemon icebox and Key lime pies identically except for the different fruit.
The following recipes call for zest of lemons. It is important to remember that zest is grated from the brightly colored part only and the white pith should not be included.
I find refrigerated pie dough one of the great discoveries of the 20th century. To me, it’s just as good as homemade and saves the cook from a big mess in the kitchen. If you have a great recipe and don’t mind the mess, you should use it, but please forgive me for taking the easy way out. I also cheat on store-bought graham cracker crusts, although making one isn’t nearly so messy. Besides, my grandchildren like to eat the remaining graham crackers with peanut butter.
Lemon Meringue Pie
1 refrigerated pie crust, or homemade crust,
kept cold until ready to use
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 Tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Fit crust into a 9-inch pie plate and flute around the edges. Pierce bottom and sides with a fork at 1-inch intervals. Bake about 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned and cool. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Separate eggs, putting whites into an electric mixer and yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk the yolks until creamy.
In a medium saucepan mix 1 1/4 cups sugar, cornstarch and salt. Gradually stir in water until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until mixture boils. Boil for 1 minute, stirring and remove from heat. Stir a spoonful of the hot mixture into the egg yolks and add yolks to hot mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until mixture boils. Boil for 1 minute, stirring.
Remove from heat and stir in butter, lemon juice and zest. Mix well. Cool slightly while you make meringue.
For meringue, beat egg whites until peaks form and add 1/3 cup sugar gradually. Add cream of tartar and cornstarch and beat until stiff peaks form. Blend in vanilla.
Place filling into cooled pie crust and top with meringue. Bake until meringue is browned. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serves 6 to 8
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon freshly grated
1 cup lemon juice
Combine water and sugar and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Cool. Add lemon peel and juice. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to freezer directions.
Serves 8 to 10
Lemon Icebox Pie
1 15-ounce can sweetened
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice
4 teaspoons freshly grated
1 9-inch graham cracker crust,
ready-made or homemade
1 cup whipping cream
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, juice and zest until well blended. Pour into crust and bake for 15 minutes. Cool.
When pie is cool, beat whipping cream in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add sugar and vanilla extract and beat until peaks are stiff. Top pie with whipped cream. Keep refrigerated until time to serve.
Serves 6 to 8
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
2 Tablespoons freshly grated
5 eggs whisked until mixed
Melt butter in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. Remove pot from heat and whisk in sugar, lemon juice, zest and salt. Whisk in eggs gradually until smooth. Return pot to medium heat and whisk or stir constantly until mixture thickens. Continue to cook for about 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Immediately pour mixture though a medal strainer into a bowl. Cool.
When cooled, refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 3 cups
Lemon curd is good served with warm scones, croissants, toast or cake, or in tart fillings.