05 August 2007

Lemon Meringue Pie

This entry could be one of many that falls under Peach. As in my Grandma Peach.

She was actually my great grandmother. My mother's mother's mother. I am a lucky woman in that I have the pleasure of knowing all four of my great grandmothers. I have lovely, and, yes, quirky, memories of them all. It should come as no surprise that I have the most of Grandma Peach.

For starters, Peach was the youngest of my great grandmothers, and she outlived the others, passing away two years ago at the age of 90. She also lived on the black angus ranch she and my Great-Grandfather Ira Wilson started in Seminole, Okla. It was family tradition that at least once each summer all of my mother's side of the family would gather at Peach's house. As kids, this was a real treat.

A hot, sunny afternoon at Grandma Peach's was a childhood dream. After a few hours climbling and crawling over and atop of stacks of dry, scratchy hay bales, the kids would climb into the back of Uncle Butch's rusty Chevy truck bed. We'd hurry for seats on the wheel wells and make sure not to step on the pile of rusted, cracking fishing poles. He'd ramble along, giving us a ride, point out cows, telling stories about them once we got close enough to identify their tag number. Eventually we'd wind our way to the top of a berm giving way to a red-tinted muddy pond where we'd smash stink bait around rusty hooks and drop them in the water. It wouldn't take long before the top white round of a bobber would drop below the surface. Even with the slow, old reels, the odds were great that even the littlest of kids would pull out a decent-sized catfish. We always threw them back, knowing that next summer they'd be even bigger.

After hours of play, we'd always wind up back in Grandma Peach's kitchen. When I was very young, Peach still cooked. She would often make her chicken and noodles, boiled corn on the cob and iced tea. But the thing in the kitchen that drew the kids were the pies. In the back of her kitchen, a china hutch and buffet lined the wall. The built-in piece was painted pale brown with a mirrored back and inexpensive flecked-laminate counter top.

And, without fail, there were always at least two pies -- a chocolate meringue and a lemon meringue. I was always drawn to the lemon pie, a vivid yellow lemony custard topped with beautiful, pillowy meringue. I remember them always having small beads of moisture on top, something I'm sure only sticks in my head because Grandma Peach would always mention the weeping pies, as if the pies were ruined.

Alas, they were not. I still remember the pies. Not just the smooth lemon custard, but the exact spot on the buffet where they sat. At some point I probably even knew the number of steps from the front door, past the washer, the dryer, the kitchen table and the main hall to the pies. I also remember that her lemon meringue pie was the gold standard in my mind. It was what the pie was supposed to taste like. It was golden; it was summer; it was delicious.

Today I got a hankering to make a lemon meringue pie. I don't have her recipe, but that didn't matter so much. The proportions would have been nice to know, but no words would even convey years of technique and talent.

I settled on a recipe from "Cookwise" by Shirley Corriher. It gave a great base of why each step was necessary, not quite the same as a teacher in the kitchen, but it would do.

It took me nearly two hours. It was complicated. Slowly cooking the custard by first tempering egg yolks and then whisking the entire mixture together. Working with corn starch to achieve the nice balance of smooth yet thick. Beating the egg white mixture into stiff peaks.

Once the pie was in the oven, I started the clean up. I thought back about how this really wasn't a high-pressure pie. It wasn't destined for a dinner party or a picnic, or even anyone at all, really. And yet, for some reason, I wanted it to work. I wanted the peaks to come out beautifully and the pie to slice into firm yet delicate pieces.

All of this, just for a memory. A memory of Grandma Peach's Lemon Meringue Pie. A memory of those great childhood summers spent catfishing, eating salted watermelon slices behind the house and gathering around the table in Grandma Peach's kitchen.

Perhaps I'll adopt this recipe as my own. I asked my mom about the recipe, and she said she might be able to find it, although she never remembers her grandmother referencing a recipe. Either way, it's important that I continue to bake it.

My children will never know their Grandma Peach, and they won't spend summer afternoons on her cattle ranch. But the pie, like a few other dishes of hers I make, can be a concrete connection, not so much to pass along the precision of my memories but to give an opportunity for my family's future generations to create their own.

1 comment:

Angie said...

Those days were treasures!!! The chocolate pies were my favorite! I've never had one like it anywhere else!