Aunt Edith’s Lemon Meringue Pie

Aunt Edith’s Lemon Meringue Pie

You know how it is: The tastes and memories of childhood create a longing in our hearts for times we’ll never see again, for people whose faces glance at us in frayed sepia tones between the pages of a scrapbook. I find myself yearning for warm summer days in Iowa with my great-aunts and great-grandmother Blanche—long, light days with ripe tomatoes, watermelon and hordes of relatives gathered at the kitchen table. My mother had left when I was four, and my grandmother raised me. In Gram’s twenties, she’d been anxious to escape the farms where hardworking women raised huge families and bent over a wood-burning cook stove. But for all the getting away she’d done—running off to get married at age 16 and sailing on ships to Europe between the wars—by the time she had me, she’d begun to revisit her roots. That’s how I got to Iowa, and that’s how I learned to make lemon meringue pie with my Aunt Edith.

Every summer Gram drove her pink Nash Rambler up to the farm near Muscatine, less than a mile from the great Mississippi River where the mystique of the Mouscatin tribe that once fished and camped on the banks is not quite gone. If you close your eyes, you can hear the call of an owl, the slap of the river on the bank.

I guess I was a slightly mystical child because I wanted to know the history of everything. I’d curl next to great-grandmother Blanche on the featherbed during hot summer nights while she murmured stories of her life and the 19th century. Born in 1873, three years before Custer’s Last Stand, she married Lewis Garrett on New Year’s Day in 1894. Two months later, when Lewis died of 24-hour pneumonia, Blanche was already pregnant with my grandmother. Blanche married again and had six more children. Aunt Edith was one of the girls in sepia photographs, along with Grace and Celia, chickens, old cars and my mother as a small girl.

Aunt Edith was thin, unlike my other well-endowed aunts, soft-spoken, with blue eyes like mine. Her kitchen was heaven. It gleamed and sparkled, this white, modern, ’50s kitchen complete with electric stove and oven, a mixer with a stand, a utility room with proud washer and dryer. Blanche spit every time she saw that washer and dryer, envious because she’d had to wash her clothes in a pot that boiled in the yard and snap clothes onto the line.

Today Aunt Edith measures flour and Crisco into a bowl, mixes it into crumbly pieces, pours in enough cold water for it to gather itself into a ball. The ball goes onto the floured table where we roll it in a circle with the rolling pin. The ballet of making this pie is accompanied by the sound of ticking clocks, ordinary reminders that someday my childhood will end and everyone here—my grandmother, Blanche and Edith, even my mother in faraway Chicago—will all leave for that other world. I wonder if there is lemon meringue pie there.

Today, it seems we will all live forever. Edith shapes a round, perfect world of crust and slides it into the metal pie pan. I love crimping the soft dough between my fingers and thumb. Her crimps are high and proud so the pudding will not spill. Some things in this world can be controlled, can be brought into alignment with the proper technique.

While the crust bakes we make the lemon pudding and whip the meringue. Edith teaches me how to break the eggs so not a speck of yolk escapes. With the mixer I whip the egg whites into a froth. We pour the thick yellow pudding into the crust and use a white spatula to mound the meringue high on top, making little peaks that turn golden brown in the oven. After ten minutes and with great ceremony, we take the pie out of the oven and proudly place it in the middle of the table. Everyone gathers to admire it, cutting thick slices to have with coffee.

Edith and I make lemon meringue pie for the next 40 years. Every year of my childhood and then adulthood, I come to this house by the Mississippi River to get a taste of my roots, despite the mother who disfavored me and the growing silence of the dead around us.

Edith and I had planned to make pie the day we got the call that my mother had died. We sat at the kitchen table and cried for her and for all the ones we’d lost, the clocks still ticking. After that she wiped her eyes and got out the glass bowl, the flour tin, the Crisco. She clutched her side, already on her own downward slide toward that other world. Together, step by step, we made a lemon meringue pie that hot August day, sweat dripping down our faces. When it was done and the meringue was golden, we sliced it and placed it onto plates. We cut an extra piece for Gram, for Blanche and for my mother. She perked the coffee as we always had, and as if we knew this was the last time, she lifted her fork to me.

“A toast,” she grinned, and scooped the pie into her mouth. It was still warm, our pie, still fresh from our efforts. All our years together tasted sweet in my mouth. Edith and I savored our lemon meringue pie as if it were the last pie we would ever make.

And it was.

Linda Joy Myers is the author of two books: Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story, and Don’t Call Me Mother, winner of the Bay Area Independent Publishing Association Gold Medal Award. She is a therapist and a writing coach in the Berkeley area. Her Web site is:


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