[Editor’s Note: One of my long-term goals of The Genealogy Do-Over is to preserve my family history stories and to document how I grew up in upstate New York during the 1960s and 1970s. Today is National Pie Day and I used this opportunity to write a story about my mother, Jacqueline MacEntee (1941-2015) and her much-loved Lemon Meringue Pies.]
Abundance. That one word seems so simple, yet it has the power to sum up much of what I inherited from my upbringing. Living in upstate New York during the 1960s and 1970s my family didn’t have much when it came to money or possessions. My mother, Jacqueline MacEntee had divorced my father in 1971 and basically it was just me and my younger brother Michael that made up the family unit.
And despite growing up without many of the comforts and even necessities that other Baby Boomers took for granted, Mom always made sure there was food as well as traditions and memories. She loved to bake and was well-known among relatives, friends and neighbors for her Christmas cookies, Date Nut Bread and for her Lemon Meringue Pie.
I learned how to cook from this woman who seemed to effortlessly work magic in the kitchen, and consistently so. I started with the basics and much of it was processed food typical of the 1970s: Shake and Bake, Hamburger Helper and the like. But I took those basics and expanded to trying more exotic dishes, much to Mom’s delight. She loved having friends over when I made Paella or what was then considered “exotic.” Remember that in the 1970s the “foodie” craze had not yet arrived.
And while I could easily whip up an updated version of Mom’s classic, I don’t think a lemon meringue pie created using homemade lemon curd, a shortbread crust and meringue fired with a mini-blow torch would bring back the same memories as her version.
So what was the recipe? Basically, like many of Mom’s dishes, there wasn’t one. She used My-T-Fine Lemon Pudding & Pie Filling which they still sell in grocery stores or HERE on Amazon. “Just follow the directions on the box,” she would say. So I would prepare the filling and Mom was INSISTENT that you shouldn’t use the INSTANT version. This was the REAL version, as she would put it, that required milk, egg yolks and butter. If you grew up on the East Coast you know the My-T-Fine brand.
As for the pie shell, she wasn’t too particular and even used one of those pre-made graham cracker crusts if she was in a hurry. We did try that awful “press in pan” crust which used salad oil but it was way too greasy and didn’t complement the lemon filling.
And the meringue? The egg whites left over from the filling were whipped up with some sugar and spread across the assembled pie. The final step was to turn on the broiler of the electric oven and carefully watch as the meringue was browned.
The pie would come out of the oven to “rest” and usually there were some “tears” as I called them – condensation on the meringue as it cooled which looked like the pie was crying.
And then the pie would go into a pie carrier: a cheap 1970’s plastic deal with a handle that I never trusted, so the carrier was held with two steady hands. And off we’d go to some lucky relative’s house or perhaps to a neighbor’s to play cards.
I haven’t made a lemon meringue pie in ages, but maybe for National Pie Day I can run out and find a pre-made crust, some My-T-Fine lemon pudding mix and bring back some memories.
So that’s what I mean by abundance. Creating memories and passing them on, even when you don’t have much to work with.
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