When we were very little, my mama would tell my bobbleheaded brother and me that we would know when our birthdays were approaching by the explosion of butter-yellow daffodils (my brother’s) and the emergence of scarlet-striped pink tulips (mine) in our front yard.
Here in Savannah, I know, not by the tulips, but by the sudden scattering of neon green lizards from my tomato bush and the intoxicating smell of Miss Anne’s lemon tree blossoming next door.
My brother and I would ask for pineapple upside cake or lemon pie for our special days — funny, tropical requests from two kids who spent most of their childhoods in Kansas. We relished every tangy, sweet-tart bite as a sign of warmer weather and the squirt gun fights and swims at the neighborhood pool that would soon come with it.
Even though I don’t own a Super Soaker anymore, I still enjoy pineapple upside cake or a lemon/lime pie on my birthday, even if I have to make it myself.
The recipes for lemon or key lime pie in all my cookbooks and spring issues are tempting, but I always end up making the recipe my Mississippi-born grandmother passed down to my mama after she discovered key limes while living in Florida. Depending on what taste you’re going for, you can use lemon, lime or key lime juice, and it turns out perfect every time.
- 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup lemon, lime or key lime juice
This year, I used the meringue topping recipe from the Glass Onion that includes a cornstarch stabilizer, which will help your mile-high meringue hold up until after dinner.
- 6 egg whites
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine crust ingredients in a food processor and press into a 9-inch glass pie pan. Bake for 6-8 minutes.
Whisk filling ingredients together in a mixer or a large bowl and pour into pie crust. Bake for 6 minutes. Set aside on a cooling rack.
For meringue, beat egg whites in a mixer until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until peaks start to become stiffer. Gradually add sugar and beat until “moderately stiff peaks” form.
Combine cornstarch, water, vanilla and salt in a saucepan. Cook over low heat until a thick gel forms this should happen in under 5 minutes depending on your oven.
Spoon cornstarch gel into egg white mixture and beat until very stable and glossy peaks form. Spoon over pie and use offset spatula to make mini peaks. Bake for 3-6 minutes or until meringue is slightly toasted. Sprinkle with zest.
It was a nostalgic ending to a dinner of ribeye alongside a romaine and homegrown chard salad with Bethesda Farm radishes and pecans Farmer Joe gave me as a birthday gift and new Vidalia onion-cheddar hoecakes.