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LEMON MERINGUE

Cindy Maddera

I grew up in the age of Strawberry Shortcake and I can probably say that I owned every single Strawberry Shortcake doll. My sheets and bedding, including a canopy, was all Strawberry Shortcake. I had Strawberry Shortcake clothes, pajamas, a quilt, a sleeping bag and a metal lunch box. I had the Strawberry Shortcake baby doll that blew scented kisses when you squeezed her. My mother made me a tablecloth with napkins out of Strawberry Shortcake material for my little table. If there was something Strawberry Shortcake related, I owned it. My mother also made me an exact replica of Strawberry Shortcake’s dress for Halloween one year. Thinking about it all now, makes me feel like I had/have some obsessive compulsion issues. I eventually moved on to other popular toys of the 80s, but I think that the only other thing I collected with such obsession were elephants.

My favorite Strawberry Shortcake character was not Strawberry Shortcake. She’s nice. I still own one of these and occasionally hold her head up to my nose, but my favorite Strawberry Shortcake character was Lemon Meringue. She just smelled the best of all of them. Lemony and sweet. Her hair was also wild and curly and bright yellow, which was something I loved so much about her. I have a sweet tooth for lemon desserts and I attribute all of it to my Lemon Meringue doll. There is a restaurant that Michael and I have been too a few times. The food is okay. It’s a little pricey and the service is kind of terrible. The only reason we go there is for their lemon meringue pie. The meringue on this pie is like marshmallow cream and for a while figuring out how to make it became yet another one of my obsessions.

Then I came across an online article where the pastry chef of this restaurant posted the entire recipe for their lemon meringue pie. Boy, that was dumb.

I have made this pie twice now in the last month or so. Lemons are cheap. Eggs? Well, that’s probably the biggest expense because the recipe calls for six whole eggs and ten yolks. Left over egg whites go into making the meringue. Most of the work time is spent standing over a double boiler while stirring. And stirring. And there’s more stirring. The lemon filling has to reach a pudding like consistency without cooking the eggs into scrambled eggs. It is not the kind of pie you just throw together and is very much a lesson in patience. You stand at your double boiler setup stirring and stirring while nothing seems to be happening. This goes on for several minutes. Then just when you think you’ve done something wrong like your butter was too cold or you didn’t do a good enough job separating your eggs because the mixture is not getting any thicker, it starts to coat your whisk. The shift from liquid to pudding is quick. It all comes down to heating the eggs to the exact right temperatures to unfurl tightly packed proteins in the yolk and then coat those molecules with sugar so that the proteins remain unfurled.

The reward for your patience is a bright, tart, lemony filling. Once the pie is completed, it smells exactly like my Lemon Meringue doll from 1980. It is a bright slice of sunshine during a season of very little sunshine.