The first cooking I ever did was baking. My Mom encouraged me pretty early on to bake with her in the kitchen, either to whip up a simple weeknight dessert or to spend a couple hours preparing a more elaborate treat when we were hosting a party. I remember how much I loved going through her recipe binder, filled with handwritten recipes or clips from old newspapers and magazines – all marked with the date she first tried the recipe along with a short appreciative comment like “TB!” (Très bon! – Very good!). Sometimes she would note substitutions or the exact occasion for which the dessert was baked, such as a birthday or a family reunion. I felt a particular love for the very old clips, those dating from my very early childhood or even before I was born; the paper had turned yellow and fragile, and smelled like antique books stored in a dusty attic. In a way, her recipe binders were like keepsake albums – flipping through them, I could easily trace the sweets we ate over the years.
At some point, she simply gave me the responsibility to make desserts. I was more than happy to do so, and brownies with chocolate chips (and chocolate frosting, for special occasions) and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting were some of my favorites. I also loved to make lemon pies – except I would always bake them from a store-bought mix. The ads for the company that made the mix were very popular at the time. It was simple to make, but I thought the result was so rewarding: the crust crunchy and buttery, the lemon custard creamy and tart, and the meringue so airy and light – but just sweet enough to balance the lemon taste.
I thought each bite was a piece of heaven.
I proudly considered my lemon pies to be my addition to the family repertoire – I think I may even have clipped the recipe from the box and stored it amongst my Mom’s collection, seeing it as my signature dessert. I don’t know why it never crossed my mind to learn to make it from scratch. I think I was just happy to make such a satisfying sweet ending by myself; maybe, in my 10-year-old head, baking this pie from a box was genuine. After all, I was cracking eggs, mixing ingredients together and baking it myself, wasn’t I?
Growing older, I slowly lost my sweet tooth and started to prefer making savory dishes to desserts. I would still bake for special occasions, but by then, I knew my lemon pie wasn’t the real deal and cooking from a mix felt like cheating. Since lemon pies were not so trendy anymore, I didn’t think of making my own.
Fast-forward to last year: I’m now an accomplished cook, ready to tackle classics. I spend hours in the kitchen, always on the lookout for new recipes to try, and avidly read my food blog-heavy RSS reader every day (or try to). When one of my favorite bloggers, a very talented baker, published a recipe for a Lime Meringue Tart, I felt like I had just stumbled upon one of my Mom’s recipes – one that I absolutely had to make, right away. I love citrus fruits, and have found several ways to incorporate them into desserts over the years – but how could I have forgotten about my heavenly lemon pies for so long? Why didn’t I think of making my own from scratch before then? I was overwhelmed by childhood memories. The time had come to get over my pie mix shame and develop my own version of this 19th century classic.
Since then, I have baked many of my own lemon pies. I would even go so far as to say they are now one of my most popular desserts. I always have the ingredients to make it on hand (flour, eggs, butter, sugar, and lemons). The custard is easy to make and the meringue is a snap. It takes me 45 minutes to make, from start to finish (baking included). Still, it looks elegant, and the taste is like sunshine on a summer day.
The lemon pie recipe in my binder was printed on a bright white sheet of paper, but to me it has as much sentimental value as if I had been baking it since I was 10 years old. I have also picked up on my Mom’s habit of marking my recipes. The inscription on this one? Vraiment délicieux, comme dans le temps (Truly delicious, just like back in the day).
This post is my entry to FoodBuzz’ Project Food Blog 2010, which is a contest to discover the “Next Food Blog Star.” I didn’t think I would gather the courage to enter this competition! While I was writing this blog post (which turned out to be so close to my heart) I figured it could be the perfect entry to the first challenge, “Ready, Set, Blog!” where you define yourself as a food blogger. I find my blogging inspiration in my frequent travels and the flavors I taste while I’m away from home. But maybe, just maybe, if my Mom hadn’t managed to get me interested in cooking in the first place, I would never have become so curious about food, and I would never have discovered the deep pleasure to be found in eating, discovering and experimenting with new flavors, and tasting my way around the world.
If you liked this post, please vote for me (voting takes place between Sept 20th and 23rd). Thank you!
Want the recipe to bake this gorgeous lemon pie yourself? Look no further: A Perfect Lemon Meringue Pie, the recipe.