Originally published July 1, 2007
by Rebecca Teagarden, former Pacific NW assistant editor
I AM NOT Greg Atkinson. I’m not even the main cook in our house. My husband is the one with the flashing knives and garlic roasted just so, the red-wine reduction coddled to perfection. His barbecue-chicken Caesar salad is so very good, I once requested it for dinner five nights in a row.
But I am adventurous and somewhat brave. With me, sometimes dinner’s a hit, sometimes, not so much. But I don’t take it personally. That’s just me. Next time.
I cook because it’s fun and creative, and because I get to lick the spoon. And I cook like my mom. It’s all about taste. Does it taste good? Then it is good. We cook by recipe, Mom and I. We read them like other people read murder mysteries or gossip magazines. We call each other long-distance and read them to each other: “Listen to this one! Doesn’t that sound great? I have to have that!” Then we always change them. Call for a cup of shredded cheddar? I like cheese. Cheese is good. Make that a cup and some more.
This brings us to lemon icebox pie.
The name alone makes my mouth water. The picture of it in the magazine made me want to lick the page. And, best of all, it meets my cheffy requirements: not too many ingredients, and one paragraph of instruction.
But there’s a problem with lemon icebox pie: This is a dessert with as many recipes as there are people who make it. And we’re not talking a tablespoon or two difference, either. This is some trick for a pie that in its simplest version goes like this: “1 graham-cracker crust, 1 can Eagle Brand milk, 1 can frozen lemonade, 1 carton Cool Whip. Mix all ingredients. Pour into crust. Chill.” (Oh, come on. You know Cool Whip, like its cousin Velveeta, serves a vital role in society today.)
There are more recipes. Many more.
Some versions of the pie call for cooking a custard on the stovetop, baking the pie (isn’t this supposed to be an “icebox” pie?), cream cheese, real lemons only, lemonade, pink lemonade, limeade(!), whole eggs, egg yolks only, egg whites only, no eggs, condensed milk, evaporated milk, both kinds of milk, cornstarch, unflavored gelatin, lemon gelatin and vanilla extract. Geez.
The two constants here are condensed milk and a graham-cracker crust. It’s gotta be a graham-cracker crust. And there are two ways to get one — make it or buy it. (If yours is better than Keebler’s, jolly good for you!)
I bought six for experimental purposes.
Now for the commingling of condensed milk and lemon, or what 1960s’ “home demonstration agent” Carrie May Jones called, “the goodie part.” That is the question. And it called for a test of taste.
Twenty-four lemons, 10 eggs, 8 cans sweetened condensed milk, 3 packages cream cheese, 2 cans evaporated milk, 1 can lemonade, 1 container Cool Whip, 1 bottle vanilla. That’s what it takes to make the six very different lemon icebox pies chosen. Pie No. 5, however, was immediately disqualified because it called for three raw egg yolks. It came out runny, anyway.
Two eager fork-wielding test groups were called upon to taste the five others: the Chow Babes, a group of friends who’ve been cooking, eating and toasting together for years, and the always-famished folks here at Pacific NW HQ.
And the winner is … well, that depends. Do you like your pie big and fluffy or compact and custardy? Both views are perfectly valid. Therefore, taking diversity into account, there were two winners, and their recipes follow.
I must report, though, that all the testers thought the ridiculously easy recipe mentioned earlier made for a darned respectable runner-up pie; light, lemony — summer on a fork.
Just how easy is that particular lemon icebox pie? You could already have made it by the time you read to this sentence.
3 eggs (room temperature)
½ cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Separate the eggs. Beat the egg yolks well.
3. Add the lemon juice and zest to the yolks. Add the sweetened condensed milk. Mix well. Pour into the crust.
4. Bake 12 to 15 minutes. Cool.
5. Top with whipped cream, if desired.
— Carrie May Jones, retired home demonstration agent, Somerville, Tenn.
Lemony Icebox Pie
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk
½ cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Combine the cream cheese, condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla in a large bowl.
2. Mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Pour into pie crust. Refrigerate overnight.
— From emerils.com