Three Pie Afternoon
Ordeal by Meringue
Recently we hosted two young saxophonists from Kaiserslautern, Germany. Their Rittersberg Big Band is on a two week tour of the States. I wanted to provide them with a taste of authentic American cuisine. Among the few recipes I can produce without help from Craig Claiborne is one for lemon meringue pie. The real thing. No lemon pudding: zest, juice, two egg yolks, flour, sugar, and corn starch, all of which are stirred endlessly over medium heat until the pot thickens. Twin Robert coaxes me into cooking a pie for him every now and then.
In the afternoon when the kitchen was not in use and the boys, the four of them, were in school, I poured the memorized recipe out of my head into the oven and sent it cooling to the basement auxiliary fridge. At the appointed hour, though without trumpet fanfare, I placed the pie in the middle of the table. Our guests wondered what it was. Robert dug in. Florian, from Germany, too. Robert furrowed his brow and asked me a worrisome question, "Pa, why doesn't this pie taste as sweet as the others?" One mouthful and Robert was done. Florian, either because he didn't know any better or because he didn't want to offend his host, finished his slice, the whole thing. I took a bite: it was tasteless.
I forgot a cup of sugar.
Before you could say "Domino," the pie was bundled in plastic wrap and tossed into the trash.
I resolved to spend the next day making amends for my failed pie. Mid-morning my second meringue pie was completed. It was magnificent, the more so because I had a couple of extra egg whites, the consequence of clumsy thumbs breaking thin shells. The pie rested on the stove to cool. Believe me, you have never seen a bigger or better lemon meringue pie in one of those refrigerated glass cabinets in a diner.
With a few hours to spare, I lifted the pie to take it to the downstairs fridge. Up in the air it went, the pie plate bending in half and did a crash landing on the sides of the kitchen cabinet. I screamed oaths unbecoming a man of the cloth. Barbara cried. I was glad the four boys weren't there, lest those who live with us think that henceforth they had license to repeat my coarse litany... and lest those boys who were our guests ask their English teacher what #$%^*! means.
What to do? After, that is, cleaning the floor and cabinet of its yellow scum, and tossing it into the trash alongside the pie ditched there the previous day. I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I do have one talent that has seen me through many difficulties (while sometimes driving my dear wife nuts), persistence. If I were Hindu, people would insist I was a bulldog in my previous incarnation.
Back to the lemon and pot and sugar and all of those other ingredients: within the hour another pie, if just a trifle less glorious than the one that immediately preceded it, cooled on the stove, this time with a dinner plate beneath it. Robert got his sweetness, the German boys got their taste of America, and I had to replenish our supply of eggs.
Any lessons for life here? Sure.
1. The validity of Murphy's law, that if anything can go wrong it will... especially if you are a wordsmith working with an alien substance like meringue.
2. Like carpenters who measure twice before cutting once, cook that I am will henceforth check my recipe twice before cooking once.
3. Practice makes perfect, which is to give myself more credit than I should, since I would have been well content to stop at two, if the pie hadn't jumped out of my hands.
4. The next time buy a pie; in the long run it would be cheaper... and certainly less frustrating.