Ma’s Lemon Pie

“Now for the lemon pie,” Ma said… “Laura you wash the lemons carefully and cut off any dark spots, while I make the crust.”

Ma added a pinch of salt to some flour. With her fingers she crumbled lard through it, until the particles would pact [sic] together when pinched. Then she added a little cold water as she mixed it in lightly to make a dough.

Now she rolled the dough out thin and lined a pie-tin with it. She cut the lemons into very thin slices and laid them on the crust until the pie-tin was nearly filled. Then she covered them with sugar – Oh lots and lots of sugar. Over this she placed the top crust, with its small pine-tree cut in the center, and she baked the pie until the flakey crust was a delicate light brown.

From the manuscript of Little Town on the Prairie (this scene didn’t make it into the published book)

The lemon pies I always knew had a smooth filling topped with meringue, so when I first discovered the above passage, I was fascinated. Could one really make a pie that way? Turns out, it’s a popular way to make them!

The recipe was originally created by the Shakers, who considered lemons important to their diet. They believed it was a sin to be wasteful; thus they used the entire lemon.

An authentic Shaker lemon pie (also called Ohio lemon pie, as the Shakers who developed the pie were from that state) would use only true lemons, white sugar, and eggs in a double crust. Today, Meyer lemons are most often used. This lemon-orange hybrid is not only sweeter than a true lemon, but it also has a thinner skin.

Other changes have crept into modern recipes, too. Some people add vanilla or spices; others thicken and smooth the filling with a little butter and flour. Some even cream the ingredients (including lemons) together in a blender.

What everyone agrees on is that the lemons must be sliced as thinly as possible, and left to macerate in the sugar as long as possible – at least a couple of hours and up to overnight.

Here’s the original recipe:

2 large lemons

4 eggs, beaten well

2 cups sugar

2 pie crusts

Wash lemons and slice them thin as paper, rind and all. Combine with sugar; mix well. Let stand at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Stir in beaten eggs and mix well. Turn into 9” pie pan lined with one crust, spreading lemon slices evenly. Cover with top crust; pinch closed around edge; slit to vent. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 and bake another 20 minutes, or until knife comes out clean. Cool before slicing.

For a more modern taste, you might try adding 1 teaspoon vanilla, 4 tablespoons melted butter, and 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour with the eggs. You could also bake without a top crust, or with a lattice top.

Have you ever had a Shaker lemon pie? Did you enjoy it? And what would a lime pie – or an orange pie – made this way (but with adjusted sugar amounts) taste like?

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3 responses to this post.

  1. The recipe sounds delicious!

    Reply

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