For a dose of sunshine, eat some lemon pie.

Since the beginning of December, our landscape has pretty much looked constantly like this:

Winter in KY 2010-2011

Not that I’m complaining much – I like the snow. Georgia didn’t really have snow to speak of, only the ice that appears around January and hangs around until March. Kentucky doesn’t usually have too much snow on average, but every so often we get really big winters. This year was the year – we even got a White Christmas for the first time. Cullen has also gotten plenty of practice shoveling snow from various surfaces. :)

Even as much as I love seeing all the pretty, pristine white, sometimes it’s a little too much. I get snow-blindness, and then I get depressed. (Okay, so that’s not the exact order of things, but they do happen.) Stuck inside all the time, too cold to go out, too wet to go play? Bleh. On top of that, the dogs are going stir-crazy – we can’t allow them to romp and play inside as much as they’d like, and playing outside in the snow is fun until ice balls form between their footpads. This all makes for sad puppies. Owners, too.

Lemon pie - Whipped Cream Beaters

While I can’t cheer up the dogs with dessert or citrus, I can do a little something edible for myself that brings the sunshine of summertime inside for a little while. Citrus seems to be everyone’s go-to for a wintertime pick-me-up, and I’m no different. I started making this earlier this winter as something to bring for dessert to a weekly supper at my aunt’s, and I’ve made it several times since. I adapted the lemon tart provided by the gracious Mrs. Humble – I don’t have an 11″ tart pan, so I used a pre-made 9″ pie crust. The recipes makes more than double a standard pie; I bet you could probably get at least two small tarts out of this in addition to the two standard pies. I have also made it in a deep dish, and it fills almost too full. The baking time is also different because of the depth of filling, but it still works out well. Just add 20-30 minutes to the baking time below, until the center is set but still a bit wiggly. Mrs. Humble dusts hers with confectioner’s sugar. I’m sure that’s plenty tasty, but I top mine with sweetened whipped cream. (I’m sure you could also use meringue, but since I don’t eat it, I don’t make it without sincere persuasion.)

Lemon pie filling in progress

Thankfully, the sun seems to be coming out more often now, and the snow seems to be leaving us alone for a while. Granted, we still have March to deal with, and after the winter we’ve had, it will be a formidable one. Thankfully, with lemon pie on my plate, I think we can deal with it a bit longer.

Lemon Custard Pie
(adapted from Not So Humble Pie)

serves 8-10

ingredients:

1 frozen unbaked pie crust
2 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 c granulated sugar
2 pinches of salt
6 large eggs
1 c fresh lemon juice
1/2 c heavy cream

1-1 1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 c confectioner’s sugar

directions:

Preheat your oven to 350°F and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Press 1-1/2 tablespoons of lemon zest into the unbaked crust before baking according to package directions. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
Process the one cup of sugar with the remaining lemon zest in your food processor or with a hand blender for about 2-3 minutes, until the zest is finely ground. Pour the sugar into a bowl and add the eggs, lemon juice and a pinch of salt; whisk until smooth.
In a separate bowl, beat the 1/2 cup of heavy cream to soft peaks and then whisk the cream into the sugar/egg mixture until just blended. Pour this mixture into your still warm crust and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the filling is just set in the center.

Allow the tart to cool completely. Refrigerate if desired. When ready to serve, beat the 1-1 1/2 cups of heavy cream with the 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar until a desirable consistency is reached. Serve delicate, rich slices topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

Lemon sugar and farm eggs

French Silk Pie.

Apologies for the over week-long wait on the French Silk pie, the star of Pi(e) Day 2010. However, we didn’t even get to tuck into the pie until the middle of this week, due to an unfortunate dental issue (the husband’s, not mine). Thanks to an emergency root canal and a temporary crown (permanent cap to be installed in April – until then, no caramel for Cullen), things are all better. And naturally, we celebrated this dental salvation with big pieces of rich, homemade chocolate pie.

We’re well-known for our smart decisions around these parts.

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Transparent pie – like chess pie, but not.

Allow me, if you will, to share a little of home with you. Home to me is Paris, Kentucky. It is horse country (Florida be damned, no offense to anyone), specifically racehorses. The area I grew up in is practically nothing but racing farms, including Claiborne Farm, where Secretariat (and Buckpasser) retired to and is buried; Stone Farm; Xalapa; and Stonerside, among other breeding facilities. A goodly number of Henry Clay’s descendants call our little town home. Garrett Morgan, who invented the tricolor traffic light and the gas mask, and George Snyder, who made the first USA fishing reel, were Paris natives. We’ve got the tallest three-story building (the Shinner Building on Main) in the world, and we lay claim to the largest one-room log cabin in the country, the Cane Ridge Meeting House, where the Great Revival of 1801 took place (even though it’s technically in North Middletown, not Paris). Our motto is “Horses, History and Hospitality.” Horses, we’ve got; history, we’ve got; and hospitality, we’ve definitely got. Despite the fact that we are growing, and Lexington is trying it’s best to assimilate us into big-city living, we’re still basically a small town in Kentucky.

I didn’t realize until I moved around as a kid that food was actually regional. I thought everyone ate your average Sunday dinner after church (never mind that my family never went to church, just that Sunday dinner was ‘after church’), that it was generally chicken and mashed potatoes and green beans with bacon and cabbage and yeast rolls. I didn’t know that burgoo, Ale-8, hot browns, beer cheese, corn pudding, jam pies and bourbon balls simply didn’t exist as cuisine per norm anywhere but home. I was devastated to learn all this, most notably with respect to beer cheese, Ale-8 and corn pudding. My uncle always sends me back to school with a batch of beer cheese, and I usually return to Georgia loaded with at least 3-4 cases of Ale-8.

In the case of desserts, especially, is where one might see the differences shining through, thanks to jam pies, hand pies, bourbon balls, Derby Pie, Throughbred pie and transparent pie. Where the general population of the South has chess pie, Kentucky has transparent pie. And oh, how I love transparent pie. It was a given for someone to bring one to any gathering – or two or three, depending on the gathering. My grandmother made them frequently, often for Sunday dinner dessert; sometimes, she topped hers with criss-crossing drizzles of chocolate and caramel, as if the pie needed more sugar!

The biggest difference between a classic chess pie and a transparent pie is the addition of cream to the latter. Chess pie will also sometimes have vinegar added, to cut the sweetness, but I don’t think it makes a difference (except to add a little extra wang). Chess pie is basically cheesecake pie, sans the cream cheese. I’ve seen chess pie with meringue, too, which should not (imo) go on transparent pie. I don’t think it should go on chess pie, either, but I’m not a big fan of meringue anyway. (Friendly note: my father adores meringue, especially on lemon pie. ‘Calf slobbers,’ he calls it.)

Be warned, of course, that this dessert is rich like you won’t believe. Well, after you read the ingredients list, you may believe. Eat it anyway. It’s also a blessedly simple recipe that you can make as a quick pie, as tarts, whatever. I highly suggest you serve it warm, although cold leftovers with a cold glass of milk are just as, if not more, delicious than the first go-round. Coffee is the usual drink of choice to go with transparent pie, as with chess pie, but do as you wish.

Transparent Pie

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2 cups sugar
1 cup cream
4 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 unbaked (9-inch) pie shell

Directions:

Beat butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add cream, and mix well. Beat in eggs. Stir in flour and vanilla. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown.

Top it if you wish, with whipped cream, or chocolate and caramel as my grandmother did, or both. Nuts are acceptable, but you run the risk of traipsing into Derby Pie territory if you add nuts (pecans are a preferred favorite, by the way).

I baked my pie with a bought crust, drinking a tasty Ale-8 and feeling mildly homesick after talking to a friend of mine still there. My filling made a little more than what filled up the pie crust – in fact, almost a whole half cup more. Surprise! After I put the pie in the oven, and cleaned up the mess I’d made on the floor getting the pie to the oven rack, I spent the next twenty minutes eating creamed sugar, butter and cream off a spatula and attempting to convince myself that I should stop for fear of raw egg disease. (It didn’t work.)

Though the raw pie filling was tasty, the cooked pie was a lot tastier. Creamy, almost unbearably sweet, it was perfect with a glass of cold milk. Maybe it’s not the healthiest choice for breakfast, but it sure did get me going.