Wednesday, June 20, 2012



 My father planted a lone lemon tree in the backyard. This was about the time that he went on his homegrown produce kick and had planted a small vegetable patch at the side of the house, which boasted big fat red tomatoes and long, slim chili peppers. He worked long and hard on that 6 x 2-foot kitchen garden, hacking at the hard, dry sand until it gave way, dragging carloads of manure from the horse stables on the other side of the river to feed the soil and keeping up a valiant but losing battle with the mole who dug trenches through the yard, playing his own game of whack-a-mole with a shovel. What could possibly have inspired this serious man to try and master the unforgiving wasteland that is Florida dirt? What would influence and embolden this man to spend weekends out under the harsh Florida sun in order to cultivate and ultimately harvest a couple of dozen splotchy tomatoes that his children were afraid to eat or strings of chili peppers that hung forlornly if somewhat decoratively in the kitchen over the sink, untouched, for years on end?

 The house

My father was a patient man, taking on projects and sticking diligently to each and every one in the face of the mocking and teasing laughter of his wife and the worried head shaking of his children. His long, constant war against weeds and the barrenness of the arid ground rarely produced more than a short spell of green grass in the front yard, grass thick, scratchy and tough, and a desert spread out before us behind the house full of burrs that hid among the twining spines of whatever grew hard against the ground, burrs that stuck and clung to bare feet and clothes. He had lovingly planted two heady, fragrant gardenia bushes just in front of the house that held up against the tropical heat and humidity, and produced beautiful, voluptuously plump white flowers year after year. Yet he hung on and forged ahead, his patience and persistence, both signs of the engineer, trumping whatever Mother Nature threw in his path to trip him up.

 The backyard

His passion was phenomenal and admirable, indeed, one had to – and did – give him that. His joy at digging in the dirt, the sheer pleasure in producing one beautiful flower or a bag of tomatoes was wonderful to behold. This man who spent all day, five days a week in the confines of a job and office, ticking numbers off in his head, doing outrageous unimaginable mathematical gymnastics, sending men to the moon, loved nothing more than spending his weekends doing the most simple, basic things life had to offer: taking his children to the swimming pool, tinkering under the hood of a car and gardening.

So when he dragged home and planted that lemon tree – there may also have been, at one time or another, a grapefruit tree as well – we smiled and nodded our heads in understanding, eye-rolling kept discreetly behind his back. (Okay, there may also have been a bit of excitement at the romantic idea of being able to step out into the yard and pull a fresh lemon off of one’s own tree.) By then, this may have been the early Seventies, the yard was barren, the sandy brown dirt brazenly having taken over the entire area, much to our chagrin. Nothing living could or would survive that nuclear wilderness. And anyway, we (his excruciatingly pragmatic children) reasoned, we could just drive across the river to the citrus groves and bring home sacks full of lemons for a pittance. But, no, nothing would ever sway dad from his resolve. Especially where growing was concerned.
We suspect to this day that when he was a child in Brooklyn his mother may have had a vegetable patch. We do know that she grew grapes strung up on elegant little trellised arbors and dad would occasionally, wistfully mention in passing that he dreamed of having grapevines in the back yard like his mother had. I can only imagine the scene, the beautiful, gracious mother surrounded by a brood of doting, handsome children, six of them, as she planted, explaining each step, gently guiding their little hands as they helped. And here was dad, as gentle as I imagine his mother to have been, curiously passionate about his own bit of dirt, concentrated on growing what he could.

I can’t even remember if we ever saw a lemon grow on that tree. But it stood there proudly, all alone, in that backyard, the backyard that never saw either the swimming pool or the tennis court or, years later, the guest room or workshed that he talked about and planned for us. But that tree must have, over the years, witnessed excited, chattering children as they kicked a ball back and forth or built tents against the hedges out of old sheets and clothespins or huddled together taking turns peering through the binoculars up towards the sky as another rocket took off from NASA where dad was at work, making history happen, quietly, modestly, just like dad.

Dad the dad

There is something so nostalgic about chiffon pies. Images and memories of diners and cafeterias, dad standing at the counter, store-bought piecrust nestled in an aluminum dish at the ready, folding Cool Whip into pudding until thick and creamy before piling it into the pastry shell. Yet there is something so amazingly sexy about chiffon pies, stirring up images of lace-edged silk chiffon dressing gowns on blond black & white film goddesses shimmering as they walk, floating around slender legs. Pale lemon cream thickens lazily until smooth as silken custard; egg whites thick and thicker, glossy and voluptuous; fold them, delicately lace the two textures together to create a luxurious mélange, whipped up light as air, cool and creamy. Gently pile the lemon-suffused chiffon into a baked sweet pastry crust and chill. And serve with something oh-so feminine as plump strawberries, blushingly sweet, and heavenly whipped cream.

Dad the engineer

This is a classic recipe straight out of the 1950’s, its delicate pastel yellow color and light frothy texture reminiscent of our grandmother’s kitchen or Sunday lunch at the neighborhood diner. Or, in my case, my dad’s kitchen and baked treats. I found the identical recipe in Abigail Serves, a United Order of True Sisters community cookbook from Albany, New York, circa 1956 which my great-aunt Mae co-chaired, and my mother’s old copy of Reader’s Digest Secrets of Better Cooking, 1973. A simple recipe, one at home and perfect for the table every day, although one may certainly want to keep this for a very special occasion.

The texture once chilled overnight is ethereal, a wisp of coolness on the tongue, a hint of lemon lingering behind, a tart that literally melts in the mouth. Cool and clean, this beautiful pie is the perfect dessert after either a heavy meal or light summer fare when all that is needed, all that is desired is a kiss of sweetness and citrus tang.

The Lemon Chiffon Pie was made for Pie Day 2012, a group pie party organized by Justin Schwartz, Garrett McCord, Shauna Ahern and Ashley Baron Rodriguez. Check out the Pie Party 2012 Facebook page to see all of the other fantastic pies made and served for this event!

Other favourite pies and tarts that I’ve prepared that I know you will love!

Strawberry Mascarpone Whipped Cream Tart

Whipped Lime Cream Tart
Mixed Berry Pie with Lattice Crust

Baked Chocolate Tartlets

Blackberry Raspberry Cream Tart 
Chocolate Truffle Tart with whipped cream and strawberries

Portuguese Cream Tartlets

Best Lemon Tart
Chocolate Chiffon Pie


Pre-baked 9- or 10-inch Sweet Pastry Crust (find the recipe and instructions here)

1 envelope (about 1 ¾ tsp) powdered gelatin
¼ cup cold water
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
4 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup super fine sugar

To serve: freshly whipped cream and fresh, ripe strawberries

Pre-bake the Sweet Pastry Crust ahead of time to allow it to cool completely: Line your pie plate with the pastry and trim. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes until chilled while you preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly prick the shell with a fork. Place a large piece of parchment (ovenproof) paper in the shell and fill with pastry weights or dried beans. Bake in the preheated oven for 6 minutes and then carefully remove the pie plate to a cooling rack, gently lift out the parchment with the beans (reserve the beans for another use, discard the parchment), and return the pie shell to the oven for an additional 10 minutes or so or until baked and golden. Remove from the oven (you can turn off the oven as you won’t be using it again) and allow the pastry shell to cool completely before filling.

Prepare the Lemon Chiffon Filling and Tart:

Sprinkle the gelatine over the cold water and allow to soften for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a large heatproof mixing bowl; place the whites in a perfectly clean bowl (preferably plastic or metal) with a drop or 2 of lemon juice and a small pinch of salt.

Whisk the granulated sugar and the salt into the yolks and place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering (not boiling) water. Continue to whisk until just slightly thickened and pour in the lemon juice. Continue whisking for about 6 to 8 minutes or until the mixture thickens to the consistency of a custard. Add the softened gelatine and the lemon zest and whisk to blend then continue to whisk for an additional 3 minutes or so until the gelatine melts.

Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, whisking occasionally, and then place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill until cold and thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the refrigerator. Using very clean beaters, beat the whites until opaque and just beginning to hold soft peaks. Gradually add the superfine sugar as you beat the whites on high speed until very glossy and a very thick, stiff meringue. Quickly beat the lemon custard to loosen and then, using a rubber or silicone spatula, fold the meringue into the custard in thirds or fourths until perfectly blended and very thick, creamy and luxurious. Mound the lemon chiffon cream into the prepared pie shell and, with a very light hand, spread the cream evenly in the shell.

Place the pie in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight to set.

Garnish the Lemon Chiffon Pie with freshly, lightly sweetened whipped cream and berries.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A wonderful father! You speak about him with so much love and admiration...

That pie is fantastic! I love retro food and lemons, so I'm bookmarking your recipe which I hope I'll try very soon.



Chiara said...

What a wonderful recipe... I'll make it to celebrate my sister's high school exams!

Charlie said...

What a wonderful and touching insight into your childhood days. Your father sounds a very inspirational figure and I love the story of the lone lemon tree. Quite aside from all that enjoyment, how could I not love something with the magnificent name of a chiffon pie? It looks exquisite too.

DebbieK said...

Beautiful story you shared- how many of us just wished we could reach into our computer screen to grab that fork and eat that pie- enjoy it for all of us :-)

Candy said...

That pie is lovely! I usually make lemon meringue pie for my husband's birthday but may switch things up this year and do this one instead.

Jamie said...

@DebbieK: How I wish you could stop by for a slice and a chat! Shall I promise to make one for you when I am next in Florida? xo

@Chiara & @Candy: Do let me know how it turns out. It is really extraordinary! Husband ate two slices in two hours.

Lisa said...

Loved this story. I think all Dad's who grew up in the city become slightly more obsessed with a garden once marrying and moving to the suburbs, than ones who grew up in them My Dad was the same, loads of peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, even huge pumpkins - plus rows of roses, giant sunflowers, lilac bushes, etc! I love the symbolism of the lemon tree..and how it seamlessly morphs into into that lovely lemon chiffon pie. That IS retro, but in a very good 'retro' way. xoxo

Vacation Rentals Canada said...

Brilliant recipe and the pie looks stunning. This would be the perfect dessert for my sister's graduation party. Thank you for this fresh idea!

Emma said...

This describes my day so well. Every time we talk on the phone, I get a detailed rundown on what has grown in the garden since our last chat. And I mean detailed:)

Your descriptions of your childhood backyard are almost scary to me - what a wasteland it sounds like down there! I kind of like that, though, it seems so exotic.

Emma said...

Oops. "Dad." Auto-correct, why?!?

La Table De Nana said...

Love your stories and pics:) This pie sounds and looks so good .

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I love your stories, especially about your dad. I think dragging home a lemon tree is something my father (who was also an engineer) would have done, too, if we lived in a more southern climate.

Ruby said...

Great post! This was my favourite pie as a child. I had a recipe I always used to make with my mom, which used condensed milk and a graham cracker crust. But for some reason, when I first tried to make it in college without her, it totally flopped. I was teased mercilessly by the friends who saw and tasted it, and I never made it again. Maybe I should try and find that recipe and dust it (and my ego) off?

A Thought For Food said...

I meant to comment earlier when I read this. I love the stories you tell about your father... what a fabulous guy. He sounds like a real gem.

And this pie... retro? yes. Fabulous? Absolutely! I've had lemon chiffon pie a few times and it's up there as being one of my favorites. Great post for the Pie Party!

Georgie said...

I wish I lived near you, then I would visit and eat all your delicious sweet and savory treats! Thank you for always making me feel like I've curled up with a good book while reading your posts. I'm not sure what has me wanting more... your words or recipes.

Lora said...

Love, Love this post and this story about your father and his garden. Love the retro pie too. It looks luscious.

karin@yumandmore said...

Great story and recipe Jamie! You made the pictures come alive in my mind: your true gift!!
xoxo Karin

Roxana GreenGirl {A little bit of everything} said...

My dad is an ocean away and I was brave enough and didn't shred a tear on Father's day but your post made me cry. I love the way you talk about your dad. He must be such a wonderful person, just like my dad.
Beautiful pie

Ivy said...

Your dad must have been a wonderful father and the garden was his place to relax and unwind after a hard week's work. The Lemon chiffon pie looks wonderful.

Deeba PAB said...

What a beautiful connect. Only you could weave so much nostalgia into a food story dahlin'...this is one gorgeous pie. My lime tree in the backyard is 15 years old, gave me 2 flowers and still no limes! I shall make this pie soon. It looks light and delicious! YUM!!

Devadatta said...

hi Jamie
Thanks for the lemon chiffon pie recipe.
I'll create one for sure, my kids are gonna like it :)
If you don't mind, can you submit your lemon chiffon pie photo in ?
It's a food photography site full of all DIY food pictures from members around the world. Or perhaps you'd like to submit by yourself? Let me know when you did, so I can share it.

Meeta K. Wolff said...

how luscious this pie looks Jamie. I remeber we had a lemon tree in our backyard when we lived in Florida too. Although my dad was not much of a gardener he loved the fruit the trees beared.

Jill Colonna said...

Jamie, what a wonderful chiffon pie for your dad! What a character, what an amazing achievement with his NASA operations, the lemon tree and his garden. Wonderful reading as ever!

domenicacooks said...

I just love reading your stories and reminiscences, Jamie. They are genuine and heartfelt and beautifully written. I can't think of a nicer way to cool off on a hot summer day than with a slice of your beautiful lemon chiffon pie ~ which I much prefer to the more popular lemon meringue pie. I'm going to a BBQ this weekend. I might take along this pie as dessert. Thanks for sharing the recipe. Happy to be part of Pie Party with you!

A Canadian Foodie said...

My dad loves this pie, Jamie. I have been thinking of making it for him, and then there it is! I know this recipe will be dynamite.
I just attended a Food and Wine writers workshop in the Okanagan which was so inspiring. I still am not finding time to write. I am working at making it a priority as it has not been a priority in the past. The recipe has. I hope that will chenge as it is your captivating writing that draws me here.

Minnie@thelady8home said...

What a beautiful post!! So touching and nostalgic.Your father sounds such an exceptional person, a brilliant mind, yet a homely man. Loved it. And loved the pie.

wendy@chezchloe said...

That is some kind of mouth watering, that chiffon pie with it's air dimpled, lofty texture... well done!

A lemon tree is a small fantasy of mine that may have to come to fruition in the confines of a glass structure. But I'm flexible.

WiseMóna said...

Your dad sounds like he was a great Dad Jamie. The childhood reflections are always my favourite ... Such a sense of calm and love from your words this Friday morning in Ireland ... Oh and the pie looks like one the chef will be making here soon. Have a lovely weekend x

bunkycooks said...

I love the stories of your father. What incredible memories you have of growing up. This lemon pie is the summertime dessert if I have ever seen one! So light and luscious...I will remember this recipe when I need dessert for guests in the coming months.

Jo W. said...

wow this pie looks absolutely divine. like eating lemon clouds

Jo W. said...

wow this pie looks absolutely divine! like eating lemon clouds :)

Fresh Local and Best said...

This is such a sweet memory of your father and touches my heart particularly because he is a gardener as well. I'm going to save this recipe. The cloud-like fluffiness and lemon flavors are making me yearn for it.

katiez said...

What wonderful memories.... and the pie - reminds me of my childhood LOL

Terra said...

I have never made chiffon before, but I am totally interested. The pie looks so light and airy. It looks beautiful, and sounds AMAZING! Hugs, Terra

marie, the ©EpicureanPiranha said...

Very pretty ~ perfect for a summer dinner party! And a lovely post as always, bringing back summertime memories :-) I recently made some delicious lemon tarts as part of a summery trio of desserts, folding whipped cream into my freshly made lemon curd ~ and decorated with fresh raspberries and mint. I think you would have loved these too ... I must post a photo of them on Flickr!

All the best,

marie, the EpicureanPiranha


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