lemon custard pie

Since I don’t make any money off this blog, I must be content with it serving two basic needs: providing a record of my life, and emotional boosts when needed. Both were met in my last post, where I veiled my maladies in shades of vegetables.

Today I look back on that post and smile at how quickly things turn around. Since typing those words bemoaning my lack of home-cooked meals, workplace satisfaction, and the perils of urban life, there’s been a change. And rather than casting a dark shadow on this new mood, last week’s downers made the upswing that much sweeter.

lemon ice box pie

Easter weekend was refreshing, spent in a peaceful, North Carolinian home with welcoming folks. Then on Monday, I got some news that literally changed my life. The rest of this week brought a bearable lightness of being, summer skirts, and a wallet swelling a little more than usual.

That’s why today I’m turning a clichéd saying on its head: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In my world, lemons deserve a treatment far richer and more robust than a simple watered-down, sugar-hyped concoction. They merit a thick and meaty, key-lime pie-esque technique like this one, courtesy of one of my favorite food sites.


The recipe hails from the American south, pairing the best of the fruit with one of my personal pantry staples, sweetened condensed milk. As it turns out, the milk I long associated with 1950s cooking (and the slightly more exotic Vietnamese coffee) has been getting attention lately, as the recent NYT article “Milk in a Can Goes Glam” attests to. I’ve been using the stuff over the past few years as a binder in granola bars, preferring it to higher-calorie, lower-protein options like honey and peanut butter.

For the first time on this blog it’s a featured ingredient, helping lemons come to their full potential.

This pie, incidentally, speaks to another saying: “Easy as pie.” This time, however, it proves it true. Whoever started tossing that phrase around must have been making a pie like this one, because the others I’ve drummed up left a lot more flour on my face. This one is simple: Pressed crust, and a filling that looks like a yellow down comforter would feel. Or a sunny day spent sipping cocktails on a beach. The usual food lingo just doesn’t work here.


I served fat slices (literal, and likely weight gain-inducing) to friends after stuffing them with stuffed eggplants. Topped with puffs of real whipped cream (none of that hairspray stuff for me), we gobbled them down like lemons were going out of style.

Thankfully, my local co-op sells them for 40 cents apiece. Which means that whatever life sends my way, I can make lemon custard pie. And if that ever gets old, maybe I’ll be willing to give lemonade another try. (Check back in the middle of my first D.C. summer. Yes, I’ve been warned.)

Lemon Custard Pie


1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
two 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (again, more is good)
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar


Preheat oven to 350. In medium bowl, combine crumbs, sugar, and butter. Pat into nine-inch deep dish pie pan and bake for six to eight minutes, or until slightly browned. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

While the crust is cooling, whisk together the condensed milk, egg yolks, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl. Pour lemon filling into the cooled crust. Bake for 10 minutes until set. Cool on a rack, and then chill for 30 minutes.

When pie is completely cool, whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar until stiff peaks form. Mound the whipped cream on top of the pie and chill for one hour.

adapted from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea by Martha Hall Foose

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