Tuesday, March 19, 2013

'Tis The Gift To Be Simple: Shaker (Meyer) Lemon Pie

Two glorious discoveries to share:

1. Shaker Lemon Pie is now in the running for my favorite pie of all-time.  Sorry, cherry.

2. I finally found my forever-pie-crust recipe.  The one I've been waiting for all these years. The flakiest, butteriest, best-est pie crust I've ever made.  It didn't come out perfectly this time because I used the wrong pie dish and sprayed butter on the top of my pie (do not do this!), but I know when done right it will be just what I want.  Thank you Smitten Kitchen and your pea-sized-butter-pieces-comment.  You have changed the way I make (and enjoy) crust forever. :)

And a belated Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone! 

St. Patrick's Day sneaks up on me every single year.  Matt is part-Irish so he always likes to celebrate.  We used to go to our favorite Irish Pub when we lived in New York.  These days, I tend to go home-made and buy the boil-it-yourself Corned Beef packet and make some cabbage, potatoes and carrots to go with.  This year, our Sunday night plans changed at the last minute and so we had to put-off St. Patrick's day until last night, Monday.  As an unplanned addition to my belated Irish meal, I remembered I had a bag of Meyer Lemons sitting in the fruit drawer that I'd been waiting to find the right recipe for.  Four lovely, yellow lemons, waiting to be made into something delicious.  What could be less Irish than four lovely Meyer lemons, right?

Well, that is when the English-Irish meal came together in a much-belated attempt to reconcile the two with no politics involved: Corned Beef & Cabagge and Shaker Lemon Pie for dessert.  Bold.  Very bold.

*  *  *

Simple Gifts.
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right. 

Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, Summer 2012
The Shakers are a widely-forgotten, American Protestant sect whose leaders were originally descended from the English.  They are known for their simply, Puritan-esque way of life - and their lovely, austere furniture and wood-working.  As fortune would have it, when we were about to leave Maine, my watercolor teacher Charles insisted we go to the Shaker village in Kentucky on the epic drive over to Colorado.  He said it was pretty.  He said it was interesting.  But, most of all, he said the Shaker Lemon Pie would change my life.
So we went to Pleasant Hill.  And pleasant it was.

Shame about the pie.

 After one beautiful - nearly ethereal - evening and night in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, among the buildings and farms of the Shakers, I've fallen in love with many aspects of the Kentucky Shaker way.  The awe-inspiring, spiral staircases.  The unique and unexpectedly beautiful combination of Shaker design and architecture with the rolling hills and high-white-fences of the Kentucky countryside.  The mindset that less is more - that simple gifts are life's real treasure.  It was such a beautiful surprise, that one little day with the Shakers.  I'd go back again, just to watch Roman walk down the dirt road towards the sunset.  But...I wouldn't go back for the food.

Sad to say, but since the essential disappearance of real Shakers in Pleasant Hill, the food and quality thereof has gone somewhat downhill.  I don't doubt that when Charles had the Shaker Lemon Pie it was every bit as delectable as he described it.  But when I had it, it was so painfully forgettable I was almost ashamed to admit to Charles I'd gone and had it, because I didn't want to tell him that it was no longer the pie of his yester-year dreams.

It was then that I made a mental note to try making some Shaker Lemon Pie myself by finding an authentic Shaker recipe and using the best ingredients I could find.  Enter the Meyer Lemons.

I learned the hard way a couple of years ago that too much citrus does-not-a-good-dessert-make.  I tried Nigella's Clementine Cake to get rid of the million cuties I had in my house and it was SO gross (and I almost never use that word to describe food) that I had to throw the whole thing out (a first for me, actually).

I was, therefore, wary of using the entire Meyer Lemon in the Shaker Lemon Pie.  But I did it anyway.  And, happily, the result was one of the most complex, delicious pies I've ever had.  Ever, ever, ever.  And despite all the warnings from cooks that the flavor might be slightly bitter and too "sophisticated" for a child to like, Roman ate his up greedily.

Did I mention I love my son? :)

Shaker Stairway; Shaker Lemons

So here's the winning recipe.  The texture finds itself halfway between Lemon curd and lemon custard.  The pieces of candied rind add slightly bitter-but-fruit-filled notes to each bite.  Try this at home when the Meyers come back out next year.

Verily, I say, 'tis one of life's simple gifts.

*  *  *

Shaker (Meyer) Lemon Pie
Serves 6-8
if you're not greedy :)

The Shaker-like Non-Negotiables of This Here Pie:

1.  You MUST use Meyer Lemons.  Regular lemons will not do.  Too tart.  Too much pith.  The list goes on.

2. You MUST use a mandoline to slice the aforementioned Meyer Lemons.  Unless, of course, you are an accomplished sushi chef who can slice lemons paper-thin on a consistent basis.  And, let's face it, you're not.

3. You MUST let the lemons macerate for a WHOLE DAY.  Do not short-cut on this step.  I'm convinced this is what drew the bitterness out.  I cannot emphasize this enough.

4. You MUST respect this pie enough to make the amazing all-butter crust I mentioned above.  Follow the Smitten Kitchen recipe and process and pay particular attention to the fact that she leaves gigantic pieces of butter in-tact in her crust dough. DO NOT OVER CUT!

2 Meyer Lemons, thinly sliced with mandoline
(as thin as it will go); use the whole lemon!

2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 Eggs
3 Tbsp flour (optional)
2 all-butter pie crusts (1 top, 1 bottom); chilled for at least 1-2 hours

Melted butter or egg-white to brush on top crust
Sugar for sprinkling on top

1. Mix lemon slices (remove seeds) with the sugar and salt and set aside, covered, at room temperature for 24 hours.

2. Pre-heat oven to 425F

3. Roll-out your chilled crusts.  Drape the first over the pie dish with 1/2 inch overhang.

4. Mix the lemon mixture with the eggs and flour.  Pour into lined pie dish.

5. Drape top cover over.  Press crusts edges together to seal and crimp decoratively.

6. Slice top of pie for steam-venting purposes.

7. Glaze with butter or egg-white and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.

8. Bake for 25 minutes at 425F.  Reduce to 350F and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes.

Cool completely before serving.  Cheers!

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