Sharon Kennedy: The perfect green lemon pie

Previous to my first try in 1981, I had never attempted to make a lemon meringue pie. Although it was one of my favorite desserts, there was something about it that made me nervous. I had no idea if the filling would set and even less idea how to top the yellow curd with a mountain of toasted meringue. But as it was the pie my father-in-law liked best, I was determined to give it a try. It would be a special surprise for him, and I was sure he would be delighted.

Like most men, my then-husband, Rick, wasn’t much of a shopper. It fell to me to select the gifts for his family. We weren’t spending Christmas up north with my family so I had already purchased and mailed presents to my parents, sister, brother, nieces and nephews, and the 25th was quickly approaching. I don’t remember what I picked out for Rick’s family, but I wanted to give his dad something homemade. I knew he would appreciate such a gesture.

On Christmas morning, I considered my lack of expertise in the pie-making department a minor snag. I reached for my Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook. The directions on page 353 were explicit and easy to follow. I was convinced I’d have no problem, but something strange began happening as I stirred the lemon curd. The beautiful yellow was turning green. Although a novice baker, I was fairly certain green was not the right color for a pie made with lemons. Cautiously, I dipped a spoon in the mixture. It tasted good so I continued stirring until the consistency was absolutely perfect.

The pre-baked pie shell was ready and waiting. Ignoring my common sense, I poured the green curd into the shell. I had done a fine job of crimping the crust around the vintage glass pie dish, and the amount of curd was just right. Except for its color, the pie looked delicious. When Rick came into the kitchen he asked why I had made a lime pie instead of the intended lemon one. I explained it was lemon and suggested that he taste the spoonful left in the saucepan. He declined.

“You can’t serve that pie,” he said. “It’s poisonous.” I told him he was crazy. I did admit it was the wrong color, but it had a wonderfully tart lemony taste his father would love. I held my ground until Rick looked at the saucepan I had used. He asked if I had taken a chemistry class in high school. I replied of course not and said everyone knew chemistry was for boys, not for girls who loved literature. Then patiently and in great detail he explained that the acid in the lemons had reacted with the aluminum pan, changing the bright yellow to a chartreuse green. I remained undeterred. It hadn’t killed me, I explained in defense, and I doubted it would kill Rick Sr. Nevertheless, the pie didn’t make it to Sterling Heights for the Christmas feast.

As I looked at my green lemon pie void of meringue and destined to go from the countertop to the garbage can, I realized a basic knowledge of chemistry was essential if I wanted to be a good cook. So what did I do? Why, what every other woman worth her salt would have done. I threw out the aluminum pans and bought a new set. Problem solved without ever having to open a chemistry textbook.

— To contact Sharon Kennedy, send her an email at Kennedy's new book, "View from the SideRoad: A Collection of Upper Peninsula Stories," is available from her or Amazon.

This article originally appeared on The Sault News: Sharon Kennedy: The perfect green lemon pie