Meyer Lemon Meringue Pie
About 18 months ago, I purchased a small Meyer lemon tree from the local nursery. It was healthy and adorned by a handful of blossoms. “I’ll have lemons within weeks,” I thought.
I thought wrong.
After I repotted it into a larger container, those first blossoms either fell off or turned into tiny incipient lemons which fell off a few days later. I waited and waited for fruit to grow. Eventually, after over a year in my backyard, I was able to harvest a few small lemons.
The first recipe that featured my slow-growing lemons was a Meyer lemon meringue pie from Chez Panisse Desserts (1st Edition). It’s an amazing thing: the unique flavor of Meyer lemon in a rich curd on a buttery crust, with an ethereal meringue topping it all.
However, the lemon curd recipe has some annoying parts (at least to me). First, it calls for half salted and half unsalted butter. With the amount of salt varying from brand to brand (and possibly even throughout the year), that adds some uncertainty. But it’s not a fatal flaw, as one can add salt at the end if it is needed. Second, it calls for the juice of two lemons, not a specific quantity of juice. Although I’m sure the Chez Panisse lemons were always plump, juicy and light on seeds, the lemons from my tree are mostly seeds, pith and peel. So how many of those lemons equal a Chez Panisse lemon? Beats me (I used a few tablespoons). Whereas one can add salt to the curd after it has been cooked to correct the balance, I have a feeling that lemon juice added at the end it might not be incorporated properly.
For this pie I tried a new crust recipe, the “foolproof” crust from Cooks Illustrated (posted at Serious Eats). The “magic” in the pie crust recipe is vodka. By replacing some of the water with alcohol, you reduce the activation of the gluten in the flour, thus avoiding a tough crust. Furthermore, water-alcohol mixtures have a lower boiling point than water, so as the crust bakes, there will be more complete evaporation of the liquid, which can help improve the flakiness of the crust. I’d say it was a success, despite some shrinkage when I baked it blind, so I’ll be trying it again soon (for peach pie, perhaps).
If you are ever in San Francisco and want a great piece of pie (or a whole one), check out Mission Pie in the Mission District. Every day they offer a few selections — the day I visited, I ordered peach-blackberry (pictured below) and my friend had walnut. The peach-blackberry was great; the walnut even better.
Mission Pie is also an organization that helps San Francisco youth learn new skills. Their website states:
Mission Pie is a business venture that collaborates with the non-profit Pie Ranch, a diversified small-scale educational farm one hour south of San Francisco. Through hands-on work and collective reflection at Pie Ranch, San Francisco teenagers discover new competencies and insights that benefit them as individuals and in community.
Helping the community by eating pie — what a great formula!
Mission Pie, 2901 Mission Street at 25th, (415) 282-4PIE, open 7 days a week.
Random link from the archive: Temple Guardians in Thailand