Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Freshness of Spring and a Luscious Lemon Pie

I love living in a state that experiences four distinct, albeit sometimes short, seasons.  Just when you are getting sick to death of the cold, damp weather in North Carolina, flowers begin to pop up reminding you that spring is just around the corner.  Now that spring is here, I am enjoying every weekend outside, often performing less than appealing tasks, but thankful every moment for the beautiful, sunny weather and the world that's blooming all around me.  Sometimes, you just have to get outside and smell the daffodils.  

The house we live in now has loads of daffodils.  There are bright, cheery yellow ones and creamy white ones with bright orange centers.  I desperately need to mow the grass right now to cut down some of the weeds, but I can't bring myself to do it because the daffodils are clustered everywhere making it difficult to mow without running over them.  So, I'm going to leave them as is and tell myself that the weeds that need mowing (our "new" old home has plenty of them right now) are making the bees happy and I'll leave them and the daffodils alone for another week. Every time I look at these happy little flowers, I think of the farm wife who planted them years and years ago and must have loved seeing their smiling faces as much as I do.  

All of these projects are keeping me from blogging like I would prefer.  I have to prioritize right now, and at this point getting our garden going, planting some new plants and trees, working on our existing peach and apple trees, gearing up for more bee hives and chickens, and working on the inside of our home all take precedence.  I hope to get back on track and blog more as these spring projects get taken care of, and by then there will hopefully be some canning to talk about.  

For now, I hope you enjoy this recipe for lemon pie.  I have read about this pie several times, although I had never eaten myself even though I grew up just a little over an hour from the North Carolina coast.  It is often called "Atlantic Beach Pie" although I have seen recipes by different names.  Apparently it is served in many seafood restaurants and by many families along the coast.  I have had it on my to-make list ever since this article in Our State Magazine.  When I saw it published most recently in the April/May edition of Cook's Country I had to give it a shot.  

It is delicious and oh-so-easy to make.  The crust is a saltine cracker crust held together with some melted butter and sweetened just a touch with corn syrup (although the Our State pie uses a little granulated sugar instead).  The idea of a saltine crust seems strange at first, but the saltiness is perfect with the tart lemon.  A friend of mine compared it to the pretzel base in a strawberry pretzel salad, and I think that's a perfect comparison.  

The filling is a custard base made with sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, and egg yolks, and it is so creamy.  The whipped cream on top is necessary, in my opinion, as it provides a light airy quality as well as something sweet to cut through the tartness of the lemon custard.  

The best part about this pie is that it is quick and uses ingredients most of us probably have on hand or can keep on hand easily.  It will become my go-to lemon pie from this point forward.  

The recipe in the link below was modified from both the Our State and Cook's Country versions.   

Atlantic Beach Lemon Pie
1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine crackers and salt in food processor and pulse until coarse crumbs are formed.  Slowly add the melted butter and corn syrup and pulse to combine.  Transfer cracker mixture to a 9 inch pie dish and use the back of a spoon or measuring cup to press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the dish.  A layer of plastic wrap in between the crumbs and the spoon can be helpful in preventing the crumbs from sticking to the spoon.  Place the crust on a baking sheet and bake approximately 18 minutes.  Remove the crust from the oven and set aside.  There is no need for the crust to be cool to continue. 
For the Filling:  Whisk the condensed milk, egg yolks, heavy cream, and salt together.  Add the lemon juice and whisk until combined.  Pour the filling into the crust and return the pie to the oven.  Bake 15-17 minutes until the filling is almost set and the center of the pie jiggles ever so slightly when shaken.  Remove the pie from the oven and chill for at least 4 hours. 
For the Topping: Using a mixer, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form.  Spread the topping on the chilled pie and serve.