Every Sunday I had the pleasure of dinner at her house. Despite her affected poshness she was married to an enormous orangutang of a man who used to punctuate conversation at the dinner table with huge, thunderous farts of varying putridity. This would have been bad enough in itself but the smells emanating from his gargantuan backside had to compete with that of his wife's soggy brussell's sprouts and cabbage, boiled beyond recognition until they arrived on busy floral plates, yellow and exhausted looking. I dreaded those Sundays for many reasons, but mostly for the fact that I knew I would spend at least half an hour having to hold back vomit.
Her one saving grace was that lemon meringue pie. It seemed bizarre that someone who could so heartlessly murder innocent vegetables could produce a pudding of such perfection. The scent of it would fill the air as soon as it came out of the oven (god knows that was some achievement given the green mist it had to cut through) and she used to carry it ceremoniously through to the dining room where it would sit proudly on the table, perfect white and gold peaks crowning its delicate blonde head. If that pie had been a woman, she would have been a Californian beauty queen- tanned, highlighted and gorgeous.
There would always be ice cream and two varieties of cream offered as an accompaniment (orangutang man would smother his in all three) and it was, as much as I hated its creator, absolutely heavenly. Soft, buttery shortcrust pastry filled with a luxurious, squishy yet firm, citrussy loveliness and topped with slightly chewy, crumbly meringue. It was a masterpiece.
Having only recently left home, this was quite early on in my career as a domestic nightmare, and I was still filled with the enthusiasm, tenacity and naivety of youth. I decided to have a go at the recipe myself, partly because I fancied having a go but mostly because I knew it would annoy Mrs Evil if I managed to pull it off.
I shall, friends, share this recipe with you now. This is how you're supposed to do it:
LEMON MERINGUE PIE
Prep: 25 mins Cooking 1 hour Serves 4-6
Short crust pastry made with 175g/ 6oz flour
30 ml/ 2 tpsp cornflour
50g/2 oz sugar
Grated rind and juice of two large lemons
150ml (1/4 pint) water
2 egg yolks
15g (1/2 oz) butter
Meringue topping made with 2 egg whites, 75g/ 3 oz caster sugar and 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- Roll out pastry on a lightly floured work surface and use it to line an 8 inch fluted flan dish
- Prick well all over and bake blind at 200 C/gas mark 6 for 15 mins
- Remove baking beans and return to the oven for a further 15 mins, until golden
- To make the filling, put the cornflour, sugar and lemon rind into a basin and mix to a paste with a little cold water.
- Heat the remaining water with lemon juice. Combine with paste and return to pan. Cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to the boil and thickens. Simmer for 5 mins.
- Beat in egg yolks and butter. Cook on a low heat for a further minute then pour into flan case.
- Lower the oven to 180C/gas 4
- Put egg whites into a clean, dry bowl. Beat until stiff and peaky. (when you turn the bowl upside down, the whites should stay where they are)
- Gently fold in caster sugar with a large metal spoon.
- Pile meringue over lemon mixture and sprinkle with granulated sugar, then bake in the centre of the oven for 20-30 mins, until meringue peaks are pale gold.
I, unfortunately, have never been great at following instructions and go through life convinced, even now, that if I cut a few corners everything will work out ok in the end. I know exactly why I'm such a disaster in the kitchen but this never stops me, so determined am I that things always work out ok in the end, and instructions are for losers.
This lemon meringue pie incident was almost 20 years ago, but I remember exactly what happened and how it turned out. Essentially what appeared after over an hour of preparation and sweating was scrambled egg pie with a hint of citrus. Imagine runny egg with a slightly sour lemon aftertaste and that pretty much sums it up. My method would have gone something like this:
- Make shortcrust pastry. Realise you have accidentally added too much water and created something between home made playdough and wallpaper paste. Try not to panic and add more flour. Repeat flour/water process until there is a large plop of white stuff vaguely resembling pastry. Roll it out, trying desperately to stick together the cracks as you go.
- Slop the "pastry" into a tin, having pulled out the entire contents of your kitchen cupboards and creating an assault course across the floor after realising you do not own a flan case.
- Look for baking beans or foil to bake the pastry blind. Upon realising there isn't any, decide it probably doesn't really matter that much.
- Stare forlornly at the state of the kitchen floor and open a bottle of wine. Consume a whole glass in one go.
- Grate lemons then mix the rind up with juice, sugar and flour (there isn't any cornflour but flour will probably do. Probably). Forget about adding any water.
- After about 15 minutes (having forgotten to set the timer) remove tin from oven. Burn self in face due to leaning in too closely. Swear.
- Inspect the "pastry", which has puffed up at the bottom but is still flat and cracked around the edges. Understand why people go on so much about baking blind.
- Spoon lemon mixture into flan case, after repeatedly bashing the puffed up pastry with a spoon. Hope that the lemon mixture is heavy enough to weigh it down, which it probably is what with forgetting to add the water.
- Make meringues. Miss the side of the bowl when cracking the first one and spill egg slime onto the worktop. Separate the eggs, deciding it doesn't matter that much if you can't properly get all the yolk out completely. Whisk until arm feels like it might fall off . Consider what might happen if the bowl is turned upside down at this point and decide against it. Stir in some caster sugar and hope for the best.
- Slop "meringue" onto the top of the lemon mixture and put it all into the oven. God only knows what temperature it's meant to be at because the recipe is now covered in egg and flour.
- Drink another glass of wine and think about washing up. Do not get any further than thinking about it.
- After probably a bit too long, take the tin out of the oven, this time singing eyebrows slightly. Swear and nearly drop tin.
- Inspect "pie" and swallow down the little bit of sick that has just popped up into your mouth. Try to convince self that it's meant to look like that- runny on top and burnt round the edges.
- Serve to long suffering friends and family.
I remember this day clearly as it was my first attempt at a proper pudding. I ended up close to tears at the state of this monstrosity, which I can still taste now if I think about it. Still, it didn't put me off, and I continue to try, but fail, at increasingly complex recipes. One day I WILL be a domestic goddess to rival Nigella...