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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Solutions and substitutions: old time way to make Lemon Meringue Pie (no cornstarch, no cream of tartar)

First of all, the vanilla bean giveaway. There were 20 entrants, total. Entrant #5 is the lucky winner. Susan Meier, email me your mailing address and I'll get these vanilla beans into the mail right away!

Now on to today's post.

Even with a fairly complete baking cabinet, I, too, run out of just the thing I need, and right when I need it.

For my husband's birthday, last month, I had wanted to make a Lemon Meringue Pie, as he has told me that was his favorite growing up. But I was seriously low on corn starch, and cream of tartar is expensive, so I try to use it sparingly. So, my quest was to find a way or recipe to make this favorite pie without corn starch or cream of tartar.

That's when I scoured my older cookbooks (1950s-era) and found a recipe for Old-time Lemon Pie. It called for flour as the thickener in the lemon custard and in the meringue, instead of cream of tartar to stabilize the egg whites, it called for lemon juice. Perfect!

The basic guideline for substituting all-purpose flour for cornstarch is to use twice as much flour as the cornstarch called for in the recipe. Also, it should take half as long for flour to thicken, in a sauce, than corn starch.

An FYI, 1 cup of liquid requires 1 tablespoon of corn starch, or 2 tablespoons of flour, to thicken to a sauce or gravy.

But back to the Lemon Meringue Pie. I made it the old-timey way, and it came out wonderfully creamy. If there is a difference, between one made with corn starch and one made with flour, I'd say the cornstarch version is slightly firmer, and the flour version is slightly creamier. But it's so close, a casual diner would not be able to tell the difference.

As for adding an acid to egg whites before whipping, here's a good explanation of how the acid stabilizes the egg white. Basically, to get the fluffiest meringue topping that actually holds its volume, you need to add something acidic to the egg whites, such as vinegar, lemon juice or cream of tartar.

To make a meringue topping using 3 egg whites -- use 3/8th teaspoon cream of tartar, or, 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar, or 1 teaspoon lemon juice.

Needing an old-time recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie? Here's the one I used just last month. It has more tang and less sweetness than other recipes that I've used. A good, old-time, lemon flavor.

Old-time Lemon Pie

1 pre-baked pie crust


1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 egg yolks, beaten


3 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice
6 tablespoons granulated sugar

Combine sugar, flour, salt in a saucepan. Use a whisk to mix in water and lemon juice. Over medium heat, bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick (about 3 minutes).

Remove from heat. Stir a couple of spoonfuls of hot mixture into beaten egg yolks. Repeat. Add egg yolks to remaining hot mixture. Return to medium heat, bring to a boil, stirring, and cook 1 minute.

Remove from heat. Pour into cooled, baked pie shell.

Beat egg whites with 1 teaspoon lemon juice, until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Spread over lemon curd pie filling, sealing to edges.

Bake in preheated oven, 350 degrees F, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool before slicing pie.

Recalling this pie makes me want another one. I may just make a lemon pie for our Memorial Day cook-out. Do you have any plans for your Memorial Day celebration?

The lesson learned here is sometimes the old ways work out best, and save us money. I think of all the things I've been inspired to try because I read about them in an historical fiction novel, from baking bread, to making pickles and sourdough. I think there's a bit of homesteader in all of us.


Cat said...

Mmm...that looks SO good! I love lemon pie (not the meringue part, though). My Grandma and I used to be the lemon pie eaters so I rarely have made it since she passed away (in 2000). I actually quit buying cornstarch awhile back as the non-GM brands were getting pricier, so now I use arrowroot. And it takes about 2/3 the quantity of arrowroot to get the same thickening as cornstarch. Might try flour when the arrowroot runs out, though. I tried being gluten-free for awhile so bought 5 lbs of arrowroot at that time and it has lasted 2-3 years or more.

Lili said...

Hi Cat,
that's good to know about proportions to use of arrowroot. Thanks! I have a small amount of arrowroot left, so I'll remember this.

Reginas Cottage said...

hi lili
the lemon pie looks delicious and makes my mouth watering. thanks for sharing the recipe.We have sunny hot weather(31 grad)for me to hot.
warm hugs regina

Anne in the kitchen said...

I am with Cat, the pie looks luscious but I am not a meringue fan. (Maybe not liking eggs at all has something to do with that?) I have made both chocolate and lemon pies using flour as the thickener and it worked well. I have a peanut butter custard filling that i am going to try thickening with flour, possibly for Memorial Day.

Cheapchick said...

Lemon Meringue is my absolute favorite. I love finding cheap substitutes already in my cupboard. The problem with Cream of Tartar is that there are so few things you use it for, not worth buying to waste it.

Lili said...

Hi Regina,
Thank you.
I hope the weather cools just a bit for you. I understand what you mean about being just too hot. We'll have some of that mid-summer, here.

Lili said...

Hi Anne,
Mmmm, peanut butter custard. I have two resident peanut butter lovers, here. They'd really enjoy that!
While I was searching ways to make Lemon Meringue Pie w/o cornstarch or cream of tartar, I came across a recipe for lemon cream pie. It was basically the lemon filling, but topped with whipped cream instead of a meringue. I thought about that one. And it would definitely be less egg-y. (I had a strong aversion to eggs growing up, really strong, so I understand not liking eggs.)

Lili said...

Hi Cheapchick,
I hear you on the cream of tartar. When my sister-in-law was moving, she gave me her spices, which included about 3/4 of a spice jar of cream of tartar. That lasted me several years. I can only think of 3 things I use it in. When I need to buy c of t now, I buy from a bulk bin place, and can buy as little as a tablespoon at a time.

Anonymous said...

okay that looks yummy ~ and just an FYI when I visit for dinner I prefer whip cream ontop of lemon pie verses meringue.
thanks :)


Lili said...

Hi Cathie,
Okay, made a note, "when Cathie comes for dinner, she prefers the whipped cream over the meringue"!
You know, it is a shame that we can't have a big potluck. That would be so much fun!

Kris said...

Oh no, not me. Meringue all the way! My mom used to make lemon meringue pie but she's not baking much any more. I've never tried making it ... I'm not sure why not ... I think I may be inspired to do it! Such nostalgic memories I have of it! But I wouldn't turn up my nose at a lemon cream pie, either. Tell you what, when I come to dinner, I'll have a half slice of both for dessert!

Lili said...

Hi Kris,
I'm going to be busy in the kitchen when I host this blog-wide dinner party! Duly noted -- half meringue, half whipped cream.

Lemon meringue pie was a project in middle school home ec, and fairly easy. I think the hardest part was making the crust. (I still don't like doing crusts, so I put together pastry for 5 pies at a time, and get it into tins to freeze, for my own frozen pie crust. Then on a day I want to make a pie, it's not so overwhelming.)

One of these days, you'll get around to making one. When you do, save me a slice! ;)

Live and Learn said...

My perception is that making meringue pies is difficult. I remember when I was a kid, my older sister made one every Saturday for a while until she got good at it. I remember it was hard beating the eggs long enough to get good peaks and then baking it just right so they wouldn't burn. I don't know if her problems were lack of skill or lack of good equipment. I much prefer fruit pies, so I never bothered to get good at making meringue pies.

As far as using flour or cornstarch for thickening, I prefer corn starch because you are less likely to get lumps with it. Although, both work well.

Lili said...

Hi live and learn,
I think the trick with meringue toppings is to make sure not a speck of egg yolk gets mixed in with the whites, and that the bowl and beaters are free of any fat. The whites won't beat up so stiff, otherwise.

Yeah, flour can get lumpy, especially if you're mixing it into something hot. A whisk is helpful with blending in flour. I do remember a batch of gravy that I made that was so lumpy that my grandmother suggested we put it all through a sieve. You learn with practice.

Anonymous said...

I agree that would Totally ROCK!

have an awesome weekend :)

Unknown said...

Thank you, Thank you , Thank you for the vanilla beans. I am so excited about them. I love reading about all the ways you manage to save money, your different recipes, and your family. I have found several ideas on how to live more frugally and still have fun doing it. Thank you.

Lili said...

Hi Susan,
Thank you -- that's so sweet of you to say. I'll be getting those vanilla beans to the PO today! I hope you have fun making extract.
Have a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this recipe without using the 'hip' meringue powder. I see lot of recipes online all using this powder. I can't buy it here in the Netherlands. This pie looks wonderful!

Lili said...

Hi Maria,
You're welcome! I think using basic, ordinary ingredients makes recipes more accessible, for sharing, or for making at home myself (I don't have to run out and buy something that I might only use once or twice).

I've seen meringue powder in with the cake decorating supplies, here in the US. I think it's mostly used for making Royal Icing, in place of raw egg whites. But I've read of people using it for making Angel Food cake.

The other issue I personally have with something like meringue powder, is it is more than just egg whites. It has other ingredients, like gum arabic, silicon dioxide, calcium sulfate and "artificial flavors" (all of which I may or may not be sensitive to.) I'll stick with plain old egg whites, I think!

Thanks for your comments!

Anonymous said...

That is exactly how I think about food: simple, basic cooking with ingredients I can pronounce (well in general;)). I will make this pie this weekend. One 'downside' of baking yourself, is that children's taste buds are not accustomed to baked goods from the store. When we were at a birthday party a while back my youngest daughter asked the host if the pie was home baked. The lady responded that 'not everyone is like your mom' and that it was store bought pie. My daughter politely declined the pie :S

Lili said...

I feel the exact same way as your daughter, but about store-bought cake. The frosting is just so sweet and Crisco-y, and unpleasant to eat. I'd rather not have any, than have some that tastes inferior to me.

Ronda@islandmother said...

I bookmarked this and am back. I love your approach - this is exactly the way I like to bake. Thanks for compiling this. It's extremely useful information and I'm looking forwards to making this pie.

Lili said...

Hi Ronda,
I'm really glad this was helpful to you! Enjoy the pie!

Wildcat said...

I tried this tonight, and it was delicious. But I like my filling a little more translucent and tart. I think next time I'm going to try a little less flour and a little more lemon juice. Thanks for the recipe!

An said...

Love this recipe. The only thing I changed was lemon zest. Not wanting to waste a thing, I zested the lemons I used for the juice and added that. Lovely. Thank you for taking the time.

Lili said...

Sorry, Wildcat, I just your comment. I'm glad you enjoyed this!

Lili said...

Hi An,
Lemon zest would add extra dimension to the filling. Sounds yummy! Glad you enjoyed the recipe!

Jo said...

Just made this and it's cooling right now, it looks absolutely delicious. I couldn't find my pie pan so made it in a 9x13 but looks like it turned out just great!

Mercyshown said...

I made this today, the spoon tasted wonderful I cant wait to have a slice later

Ali said...

Made this tonight and it turned out so well! It was my first time making meringue so I was a bit nervous but your directions made perfect sense. :)

Lili said...

Hi Jo,
I've never made a pie in a rectangular baking dish, but what a brilliant save!

Lili said...

Hi Mercyshown,
I hope it was every bit as delicious as the sample on the spoon tasted!

Lili said...

Hi Ali,
Meringue is easier to do than it looks, isn't it?! I'm glad it went well for you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this recipe. We are celebrating Solstice tomorrow so I want to celebrate the return of the light with a big lemon pie...but cornstarch gives me a headache so I was so happy to try this. Thank you! Cheers from Dominique Comox, BC, Canada

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the recipe. am gonna try it.. I don't use corn starch because my roommate is allergic to corn products and this will work for both of us.

Unknown said...

Hi there. Its the day before Thanksgiving and I'm a pie shy as last minute guests finally rsvp'd. I have all the ingredients and gave this a whirl on the fly. Delish! And saved my Holiday. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lili,
I don’t normally comment on blogs and such but I had to thank you for this recipe. I’m a student and have a fairly sparse pantry, but I do love baking and lemon meringue pie is one of my favourites. I didn’t have half the ingredients for my go to lemon meringue recipe, but this pie is made with just pantry staples, so it really saved the day! Thank you so much for sharing! Happy Pi (3.14…) day from Ontario :)

Lili said...

Hi Nina,
You're welcome. I'm happy to pass on information that has helped me. I hope you enjoyed the pie!

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