My maternal grandmother came of age in the 1930s, when ice-boxes were the norm in the kitchen, before refrigeration. She was always interested in cooking while growing up, and as the eldest child, was responsible for many domestic chores at the family home. I have many fond memories of cooking along with her during the annual summer vacations I would spend with her. We'd spend a day cooking and then bring picnic lunches along during our walks along the Hudson River Aqueduct, picking wildflower bouquets, stopping at the little library for our books, collecting shells and stones along the shores of the Hudson River and window shopping along the downtown of her historic village, Dobbs Ferry, New York.
One of the treats she taught me how to make was Lemon Chiffon Pie in a graham cracker crust. The vogue for gelatin desserts seems to have reached its crescendo during my grandma's youth, but we both loved its sweet and sour taste and light texture, which seemed just right for muggy summer days. My grandma's original recipe called for a graham cracker crust, which I needed to adjust for our gluten-free kitchen. We also used to use a whisk to beat the egg whites and heavy cream into submission, which required quite a bit of bicep strength. Thank goodness for my electric mixer!
I recently had a hankering for this pie and for savoring the memory of my delightful grandmother, so this recipe was trotted out and fiddled with to make a gluten-free version for my family's Thanksgiving feast. My kids were disappointed that this showed up in place of the traditional pumpkin pie, so I suppose I'll have to produce some when they are home visiting (ransacking) my house for Christmas. However, husband Dan and I loved this elegant dessert.
Grandma's Lemon Chiffon Pie (makes two 9 inch pies)
1 (8 oz.) pkg. gluten-free graham crackers, crushed into crumbs (I used Kinnikinnick's S'moreables, which are gluten-free but a bit grittier than wheaty graham crackers)
1/3 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. softened butter
1 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (two large lemons)
1/2 tsp. salt
Grated rind of one lemon
1 pint heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
Extra sugar for sweetening whipped cream
Make the crust first by crushing graham crackers into crumbs. You can use a paper bag and a rolling pin like grandma and I used to do or whizz them up in a food processor like I do now. Add 1/3 cup sugar and softened butter and mix well. Press into two glass 9 inch pie pans and bake in preheated 375 degree F oven for 8-10 minutes. Let cool.
Dissolve gelatin in cold water and let soften 5 minutes.
Beat egg yolks well and add in 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice and salt. Beat until foamy. Place in top of a double boiler and cook, stirring constantly, until they are thickened, about 5 minutes. Don't let the mixture go and return to have scrambled eggs instead. Vigilance is the key here. Let cool.
Add lemon rind and gelatin mixture to thickened egg yolks.
Beat reserved egg whites with remaining 1/2 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold into yolk mixture, taking care not to do so too vigorously so as to destroy fluffy egg white texture. When thoroughly mixed, fold into graham cracker crusts, cover with plastic wrap and let chill until set, about 2 hours.
Beat heavy cream with vanilla and extra sugar to taste. Serve each slice of pie with a generous dollop of whipped cream, or alternatively, spread whipped cream over each pie and chill another hour before serving.
Makes two pies.
As a final serving, I leave you with a vintage poem for this vintage dessert by Edgar Guest:
The world is full of gladness,
There are joys of many kinds,
There's a cure for every sadness,
That each troubled mortal finds.
And my little cares grow lighter
And I cease to fret and sigh,
And my eyes with joy grow brighter
When she makes a lemon pie.
When the bronze is on the filling
That's one mass of shining gold,
And its molten joy is spilling
On the plate, my heart grows bold
And the kids and I in chorus
Raise one glad exultant cry
And we cheer the treat before us
Which is mother's lemon pie.
Then the little troubles vanish,
And the sorrows disappear,
Then we find the grit to banish
All the cares that hovered near,
And we smack our lips in pleasure
O'er a joy no coin can buy,
And we down the golden treasure
Which is known as lemon pie.
Edgar A. Guest, Just Folks (Chicago: Reilly and Lee Co., 1917)
I am sharing this post with Weekend Cooking, a weekly blog event hosted by Beth Fish Reads, where cooks gather to swap food-related -sometimes food-book-related- posts. Please stop by to see what others have written about this week.