I’d barely gotten 5 feet inside my dad’s house when he took one look at my pie container and asked with gleeful optimism, “Is that lemon meringue?”
Indeed, it was. One of his favorites — tart and sweet lemon curd topped with tall, fluffy waves of lightly browned meringue. I made it for him for Father’s Day, a simple gift met with more enthusiasm than it was probably worth. Maybe I don’t give pie — or the thought behind it — enough credit.
The approaching Independence Day weekend means gatherings of some sort are likely, though with a decidedly different feel for many of us. Social distancing is still part of our daily routine. On a deeper level, the social justice protests all over the country are prompting some of us to take a hard look at what it means to be American on this July Fourth.
But we can all get behind pie, right?
Summer pies are a treat — even more so when they’re shared with family and neighbors — so here are a few to get you started, including that lemon meringue number.
Classic apple pie is a crowd favorite that spans the calendar year. July Fourth, Thanksgiving — it seems to be right at home no matter the season.
It also happens to be an easy pie to make for anyone who needs to throw something together for this weekend. Granny Smith apples are perfect for pies — they’re tart and sweet and hold up well when baked. I like to slice mine, but you can chop them. Pantry staples of brown sugar, cornstarch and vanilla are almost all you need, plus a little cinnamon. You could add raisins or pecans, and other fruit, such as sweet summer cherries or even frozen cranberries you might have lingering in your freezer.
Big slices served warm from the oven and topped with vanilla bean or butter pecan ice cream are matches made in heaven.
This is one pie that deserves a double crust, and before we get too far, let me take this moment to share a secret: While I love homemade pie crusts and know they are 100% better than anything you’ll buy, I often purchase crusts anyway to save myself work.
I can hear the collective gasp now.
It’s not that I don’t have the skills. I can make them; I just choose not to.
When I do make them, as I did for this apple pie, I don’t do frilly, pretty edges with perfect crimps or braids, or intricate lattice patterns, or spell out cutesy letters with extra pie dough. Nope. My crusts serve a purpose, and that purpose is to be the top and bottom for whatever filling goes inside. They are often misshapen and not always a perfect dough circle, and sometimes one side hangs off the edge of the pie plate while the other barely fits in it.
That being said, I’ll admit they’re buttery and flaky and a world apart from the store-bought ones, even if they look less than perfect. If you have the time and patience, go for it. But don’t worry if you choose the path of least resistance — not all of us are pie perfectionists.
Lemon meringue pie is a bit tricky, at least as far as pies go. Both layers, curd and meringue, need some special care and attention or one or both could flop. Don’t fret — we’re not talking rocket science — it’s just a pie that does not allow for distractions that take you away from the kitchen in the middle of making it.
Making curd involves a few steps that trip people up. First, there’s separating yolks from whites. (Note: Cold eggs separate easier than room temperature eggs.) Then there’s tempering the egg yolks — that is, adding a hot curd mixture to them in small increments while continuously whisking, so that the eggs incorporate into the mixture rather than cooking in it. Add the eggs to the hot mixture too fast and you’ll end up with sweet, lemony scrambled eggs — gross.
Once the curd is done, the meringue — made from the egg whites — needs about 8 minutes with your mixer, stopping only once to quickly add sugar and salt. You need stiff peaks, so don’t even think about stopping until those beaters can pull the thickened meringue out with them if you take them out of the bowl.
Slathered on top of the lemon curd, those meringue waves will come to life as they begin to brown in the oven. It’s lovely summer pie that’s best served chilled right from the fridge on the same day it’s made. It can be made ahead, it just won’t be as pretty. Mine lasted a day in the fridge just fine, though the meringue drooped a bit.
Once you’ve nailed the process of tempering eggs, the sky’s the limit. Time for pudding pies.
Coconut cream pie is cool and refreshing and smacks of summer.
This one starts with a tasty coconutty pudding made from cream, milk and coconut milk, which is key. Don’t leave it out, or you’ll have vanilla pudding, which isn’t bad, but that extra coconut milk makes the coconut flavor sing.
Puddings also require tempering egg yolks, but unlike the lemon meringue, this pie doesn’t need to bake. Rather, it’s chilled, and then instead of meringue on top, a thick layer of whipped cream becomes a bed for lovely toasted coconut.
While white chocolate adds some sweetness to the coconut pudding, it’s barely there and doesn’t overpower the coconut.
I’m partial to pie crusts for cream pies, but you could easily use a graham cracker base, similar to what you’d make with a cheesecake.
This is a dense, heavy pie that’ll make short work of flimsy paper plates. The apple pie is a good contender, too, for a hefty dessert, especially once you add those scoops of ice cream — because you know you will.
In fact, just plan to get sturdy plates, or, at least, double up when serving. Share with your neighbors, not the ants.