Todays thoughts are by a guest poster, my friend Maggie. I hope you enjoy reading her words, which are every bit as delicious to the soul as her pie recipe is to the taste buds.
If there were ever a pie that was aptly named it is the “Lemon Angel Pie”. I defy anyone to eat this dessert without thinking of soft summer clouds rolling gently across the sky or silken angel wings fluttering in the golden sunlight. The recipe is from “Cleora’s Kitchens, The memoir of a Cook & Eight Decades of Great American Food”. Cleora was a cook in Tulsa who worked in the mansions of the oil rich families from the1920s and into the 1980s. The oil flowed in the old Tulsa and the wealthy celebrated that flow with lavish and extravagant parties; it was a time when the talent of the household cook was an important and necessary asset.
The book is partly a history of Tulsa when it was called the “Oil Capital” and is partly a recollection of good recipes from her parents and grandparents who cooked, often from the wild, without the kitchen niceties that we have today. The children picked wild strawberries, plums, and blackberries for the jelly and jams that their grandmother made each year. And they picked wild Possum Grapes for her exquisite wine. Cleora became a professional cook while still a teenager. It was a craft that she had learned from her mother and grandmother and one which she developed into a long and rewarding career.
The Angel Pie was a creation of the decadent 60s. It was a decade of great change nationally, but the rich held on to the self-indulgent lifestyles that their families had enjoyed for generations. And I can imagine large, beautiful dinner parties topped off with a slice of Angel Pie. It is a pie that commands a place in the memory of anyone who enjoys a good lemon pie.
I have a friend, Cynthia, who lives her life with great flare. She struts around in designer clothes, flashy jewelry and strong perfume. She owns a company that helps companies like our family business put together benefit packages for their employees. Cynthia is the best in her field. Her manner screams confidence, but never arrogance, and when she calls and identifies herself on the phone, there is a melodious ring in the way she says her name as if she were introducing a VIP.
A man who came to sell me insurance once just closed his presentation folder when I said we used Cynthia’s company and said that he could not compete with her, that she was the best in the business. And she is fearless. If she feels that an insurance company is taking advantage of us and rejecting a claim unfairly, she just stomps into the middle of the argument with spike heels, pulls her small frame up to its maximum height, and tells the company how it should be and almost always wins.
I was once denied a large claim by an insurance company. Cynthia did not represent the company but I called her just to get a suggestion on how to deal with the woman at the claims office who seemed very rigid in her denial. Cynthia listened and then said, “Got a pen? You need to call this man.” She gave me the name and said that he worked directly under the president of the company and was responsible for their affairs in my part of the country. “Call him and tell him your situation.” Then she gave me his phone number, his direct line. Within a few days I was assigned a new person to work with in the claims office, the claim was paid and I received a letter of apology from the company. Dang!!! She was able to help me accomplish that because of the respect that people in the insurance industry have for her.
Her dress habits are not at all like my worn jeans and tired sneakers, but other than that we have much in common. And so when I call to ask a short question about some employee’s policy, I had better set aside the entire afternoon, because we just go on and on. We talk about all the things that business owners have in common, about food and politics, anything and everything. And she loved my beloved Jack Russell, Stan, that we had to put down. We both cried, two tough, hardened business women who had seen it all just sat and blubbered over a 17 pound dog.
So we were on the phone one day and were having a conversation about how she loved to cook when she got home from work. That was relaxing for her. We were sharing our favorite recipes and she asked if I remembered a particular restaurant in a trendy part of town that had closed a few years previously. No, I had never eaten there. Cynthia said that they made the world’s best lemon pie. When they closed Cynthia had asked the owner for the recipe for the lemon pie, but the owner said no, she would not give out the recipe. Cynthia reminded the owner that she had stopped by after work for several years to buy a pie to take home or to give as a gift. The owner thanked her but still would not give her the recipe. The owner had been a friend of Cynthia’s mother so Cynthia tried to call in a favor. It didn’t work. She tried to buy the recipe. Not a chance, she was told. She had tried to reinvent the recipe but admitted that it was not the same, not as good.
“What’s it like?” She said that it was upside down. Her voice trailed off and took on a dreamy tone. “A meringue is the crust. But it is crunchy, not soft. And it is filled with a lemon filling and whipped cream. It is fluffy and light, sweet and tart…….”
I told her that I made that pie and loved it, too. The next few minutes were filled with questions from an excited Cynthia. She finally asked, “Where did you get the recipe?” And when I told her it came from “Cleora’s Kitchens”, she was as excited as a small child at his birthday party.
She almost yelled, “I have that book!” And the next few minutes were filled with mutterings about “stopping by the grocery store” and “needing lemons” and then an abrupt “I have gotta go.” I laughed and I knew what Cynthia would be doing that evening.
Too much praise for one lemon pie recipe? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The mansions where the pie was first served have long since become public and are now garden centers and museums.
The gold leaf gilding has been covered over with two coats of latex paint and the linens and lace, the china, crystal and silver have long been forgotten, but the thought of the Angel Pie still causes excitement. Here it is.
4 egg whites
2/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
¾ cup of sugar
For the crust beat the egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tarter; beat until soft peaks are formed. Add sugar gradually, beating until stiff peaks are formed. Spread over the bottom and sides of a buttered (important) 9 inch pie pan. Bake at 275 degrees for 1 hour. Set aside to cool.
4 egg yokes
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 cup whipping cream
For the filling: in the top of a double boiler beat the egg yokes; add sugar, lemon juice, and lemon rind (zest). Cook over boiling water until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Whip cream until stiff. Fold half of the whipped cream into the cooled lemon custard, blending gently. Pour into cooled meringue crust. Sweeten remaining whipped cream and spread over filling. Pie may be frozen if desired. Serves 6 to 8.