Come Into My Kitchen

Lee’s Summit cook’s lemon meringue pie sells out fast at bake sales

Mary Johnson’s lemon meringue pie.
Mary Johnson’s lemon meringue pie. Special to The Star

Mary Johnson of Lee’s Summit is known for baking pies.

While her skills in the kitchen don’t stop there, her four adult children and five grandchildren request her delicious pies. That’s fine with her. Now that she is retired from a corporate job, she has more time for cooking and baking.

Q: When did you develop a passion for cooking?

My mom and grandmother both loved to cook and bake and I got my love of baking from them. I grew up in Wisconsin and since my mom was a single parent, I often spent time at my grandmother’s house. She loved to bake bread and pies and often made donuts, or what she called fried cakes.

Q: Do you travel and how does that influence your cooking?

When I worked for a major accounting firm, I traveled world-wide and when I came home, I enjoyed making the foods I had tasted.

Once, when I returned from Italy, I learned to make pasta. In Tuscany I had enjoyed pinci pasta, then I went to St. Louis to visit my son and his family and we made homemade pasta together.

Q: What is the history of this lemon meringue pie recipe?

My mom and grandmother both made this pie. My grandmother made a wonderful crust from lard, but then I saw this crust on The Chew, a television show, and tried it as I wanted to avoid the lard.

The lemon filling is exactly as they made it, and makes a delicious, creamy filling. The recipe lists yellow food coloring as an option, but I never add it.

Q: Do you make this pie often?

My family and friends request it and I will make it for Thanksgiving. Whenever pie is on the menu, I make Lemon Meringue pie. I will make other pies, including pecan chocolate, and apple crumb, but lemon is a favorite.

I made 11 lemon pies for a bake sale at my church last week and they were sold before the sale opened. I bake cookies, too, including pecan balls and brown sugar shortbread, but this lemon pie is my signature dessert. Making meringue is a skill.

Q: Do you have tips for making a beautiful meringue?

Be sure to separate the eggs when they are cold, just out of the refrigerator, then let them sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or so until they warm up. Beat the egg whites until they are frothy and creamy, then beat in the sugar gradually. Many people do not beat meringue long enough and you want to be sure the egg whites are stiff. Do not hurry it.

Mom’s Fresh Lemon Pie

Makes 1 9-inch pie

1 1/2 cups sugar

6 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold water

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons, juiced)

3 egg yolks, well beaten

2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Yellow food coloring, if desired

1 (9-inch) baked pie crust (see Easy Pie Crust recipe, below)

Meringue:

6 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Gradually whisk in the cold water and lemon juice, blending until smooth. Add the beaten egg yolks, mixing well until blended. Add the butter. Gradually whisk in the boiling water. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils.

Boil slowly for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and food coloring, if desired. Spoon into the baked pie crust. Set aside.

Make the meringue: Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Beat in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until stiff and glossy. (To check they are stiff enough, when the back of a tablespoon is tapped on the meringue to make a peak, the peak will stand straight and firm, or cut with a table knife and the whites will stay separated with a valley between. It is very important not to under beat.)

Spoon the meringue onto the hot pie filling, carefully sealing the meringue to the edge of the pie crust to prevent shrinking or weeping. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until delicately brown. Cool the pie away from a draft. Refrigerate leftovers.

Easy Pie Crust

Makes 1 (9-inch) single crust

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 3/4 tablespoons water

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 1/8 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, salt and water. Stir until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Refrigerate the water mixture until very cold, at least 30 minutes or more.

During that time, refrigerate the butter, flour, mixing bowl and the mixer paddle beater. Cut the butter into ½-inch pieces.

In the chilled bowl, combine the butter and flour using your fingers to lightly coat the butter pieces with flour.

With the chilled paddle beater for an electric stand mixer, on low speed, beat the flour-butter mixture just to break up the butter, about 30 seconds. Add the water mixture all at once and increase the speed to medium-low. Beat just until the dough comes together in big chunks, then immediately turn the mixer off.

Using your fingertips, gently pat the dough into a round disc about ½-inch thick. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour, or up to 1 day, before rolling.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Generously flour the surface and rolling pin. Roll the pie dough on the floured surface until round and about 2 inches bigger than an inverted 9-inch pie plate. Fold the dough into quarters and place in pie plate. Unfold in pan and form your favorite edge. Prick the pie crust with the tines of a fork.

Bake until lightly brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Set on a wire rack to cool.

Tip: If desired, the disc of pie crust can be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months before rolling and baking.

Recipe credit: Carla Hall, The Chew

Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore are cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. They have published over twelve cookbooks and thousands of recipes. They are members of Les Dames d’Escoffier and blog at pluggedintocooking.com. Email them at KCComeIntoMyKitchen@gmail.com.

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