The Constant Pie or How I Escaped Reform School

It might be a good idea to explain this early on.  Someplace in the jungle of my early childhood there was really only one civilizing factor that saved me from reform school. It wasn’t the swat off the back of the head my mother would give me for my sass mouth or the steeplechase race around the neighborhood with my grandmother and her broom in pursuit of me and my posse of potential jailbird pals. And it sure wasn’t going to church.

It was pie. Any kind of pie, as long as it was something wonderful and fruity between two flaky layers of crumbly lard-plumped crust, or hot filling and snowy meringue sitting on one warm crusty layer with its shoulders curled up and over to hold all that sweet goodness, or a cold deliciously brittle crust and light filling sitting chilled and waiting in the fridge with a blanket of cold, cold whipped cream spread like a cool white blanket to take the edge off a hot summer afternoon. God, I love pie.

I don’t believe in much, unless you count the presence of fairies and the creepy stuff that happens around midnight on Halloween, but I do believe in a couple of earthly things: one is the whole Death and Taxes riff and the other is the importance of pie to world peace. And, yes, you have no business reading on, especially something written by a woman who believes in fairies. But you will because you want to know how to save the world. So, here it is: imagine a world where leaders itching for a fight jockeyed for a stool at the local diner in some small town and had a chin wag about their problems over a piece of pie and hot coffee. That would beat any state dinner. It just might do the trick. Have you ever seen anyone fight anyone while eating pie in a diner? Impossible and you never will. Case closed. World peace assured. Please pass the lemon meringue.

There was a time not too long ago when pie fell out of favor. Actually it was the crust that fell from grace but the filling went with it. Imagine not liking lard. Or even that vegetable shortening stuff with “zero trans-fats”, whatever they are.

The point is this: people stopped eating pie at the local diner, stopped keeping one or two on hand at home, and the world went to hell. And despite the doomsday hopefuls, waiting pie-less for December, 2012, I believe there might still be a chance to save this mess we’ve made of the planet.

Here’s how I know there’s still hope: this past year a kids’ book was published called PIE and, yes, it’s about pie. You should read it. It’s a wee book about how pie saved a town and taught everyone about how to suck it up and share and talk nicely to each other. So why not The World?

Then there was that movie about a pretty young mother who worked in a restaurant and dreamt of winning a pie contest and does and loses the loser husband and wins the heart of the handsome hero but she can never love anyone as much as she does PIE! There it is again. Pie = Love. You know, “nuthin’ sez luvin, etc., etc.”

And then there’s the recent uptick in articles or blog posts (much like this one) or appearances in the recipe column of a newspaper about pie. All this fuss over something that cardiologists the world over have come to decry as one step above the Double Down and two steps down toward the ninth ring of Hades.

But I don’t want you to get discouraged. I want you to eat pie. This weekend I decided to use up the cans of pumpkin hanging around on the lazy susan and two more pies were born. Pumpkin Pie. Can’t get anymore traditional than that, except for maybe Apple and that one just steals my heart. One of those pies is sitting at a construction site where it will be eaten tonight around 10 p.m., give or take, and the other made its way to the living room with a spoon in the center for a thoughtful watching of Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. It was a helluva weekend.

So try this when the world seems too big and Care comes knocking at the door. Shut the world away and make a pie. Make Pie Not War.

In fact, make my Lemon Meringue Pie:

Bake one 9″ pie shell and give it time to cool.

FILLING:

Take 4 Large Eggs out of the fridge and separate the yolks and whites. Put the whites in a clean bowl you’ve rinsed with vinegar and hot water and dried with a paper towel. Put the yolks in another bowl. Remember not to get any yolk in the whites or the meringue will flop.

Now take 1 1/2 c. of granulated white sugar and put it in a heavy saucepan. Add 6 Tbsp. cornstarch and 1/4 Tsp. salt. Stir it together.

Gradually stir in, in this order:

1/2 cup cold water and 1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice, and the egg yolks. Beat until smooth. No lumps. Nada.

When the mixture is smooth, gradually stir in 1 1/2 cups boiling water.

Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken and bubble. Don’t even think you can slide away for a minute or so. The filling is like a toddler and just as fussy.

Continue to cook, stirring briskly, until thick and bubbly, about 1 minute longer. It should drop from the spoon in thick, smooth sheets (lift the pot to stop the cooking while you check).

Remove from the heat.

Gently stir in until melted 2 Tbsp. soft unsalted butter

Stir with a gentle folding motion for a minute or two to partially cool, then pour and scrape the filling into the cooled crust. No, you can’t have just a little taste. You just won’t be able to stop.

Let the filling cool to room temperature before beginning the meringue.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

MERINGUE

In the small bowl (cleaned with vinegar, hot water and dried with a paper towel) of an electric mixer, beat the reserved egg whites at high-speed until firm yet soft glossy peaks form when the beaters are stopped and raised. It’s a hop and a skip to go from “glossy and softly peaked” to dry and desert-like so pay attention.

Continue beating at high-speed and add, 1 Tsp. at a time, beating for one or two seconds after each addition 1/2 cup superfine sugar (if you can’t find super-fine, whir regular sugar in a food processor or blender to make it really fine).

Continue to beat until stiff, pointy peaks form that are almost dry. It is easy to go from stiff to dry – try to stay just short of dry.

Spoon some of the meringue around the edge of the filling. With the back of a spoon, spread this meringue so that it touches the inner edge of the crust all around. Very important so the meringue won’t “weep” and get those brown drooly but perfectly delicious brown spots dotting the top.

Spoon the remaining meringue into the center and spread to cover the filling completely. Leave the meringue in natural swirls and mounds. Be artistic but don’t beat the meringue up.

 Bake in a 425 degree oven for 4-6 min. or until meringue tips begin to lightly color a pleasing tan. 

Cool on a wire rack away from any drafts. When the pie has cooled to room temperature, refrigerate to chill. If you really want to cover it, use wax paper but NO plastic wrap. It will cause the meringue to break down and die.

Although this may be eaten at room temperature, the flavor will be improved and the cutting made easier if it is chilled before serving.

Best eaten the day it is made. Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.

But there won’t be any.

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About Phyllis Alberici

Hanging a few lanterns in the darkness. Let me know how it's going.
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6 Responses to The Constant Pie or How I Escaped Reform School

  1. [audio src="http://www.eventsounds.com/wav/mmmcrum.wav" /]

  2. Greg Goth says:

    Pie, the one wedge issue everybody can agree upon.

  3. David Liebschutz says:

    Phyllis,

    I love pie as well, but I have never been a big lemon meringue fun. However, your recipe and writing made me want to try it!! It will still have to take a place beside apple and blueberry and pecan…:)

    Yummy.

    • Phyllis Alberici says:

      I’ve got those recipes too! Including a colonial recipe for pecan pie guaranteed to rot your teeth as you fork it in 🙂

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