Recipe Reboot: Lemon Chiffon Pie

Since it’s the dead of winter, and we’re expecting even more snow over the next few days, I guess I’ll continue with the sunny citrus theme.

A Proustian Moment

an array of weirdly decorated cookies

For celebrating the Winter Solstice, gingerbread dinosaurs are de rigeur.

I re-made this on December 13 (i.e., 12/13/14) for a Winter Solstice party given by R– and V–. The Winter Solstice party is a tradition in our extended social circle that, I’m proud to say, was started by A– and me back in 1987, in our tiny apartment in a metro-west Boston suburb. It ballooned significantly the following year when we did it at Fandom House, attracting guests from as far away as NYC and the Washington, DC area. In the Fandom House years, I insisted upon making gingerbread cookies and popcorn/cranberry garlands to decorate our Solstice Tree (efforts in which my housemates participated with a bare minimum of enthusiasm; now that I’m older and wiser, I don’t blame them) and for food we seeded the party with vegetarian chili (made as spicy as A– could stand, so pretty damn hot), chips and dip (classic sour cream and onion soup mix), crudités, pizelle cookies and Nutella. Guests would bring their own contributions of food and drink, and then when provisions started running low, around midnight, R– would turn up after an evening working at his delivery business, Vidigo (a non-web-based forerunner of with the end-of-day chicken and biscuits leftovers from the Porter Square Popeye’s, and everyone would feast and drink some more. Several hours later, the cold light of morning would shine on the party guests who had spent the night, scattered across our floors, and we’d send A– out for Dunkin Donuts and coffee.

So, fueled by these memories, I expected that a Winter Solstice party would be a good place to trot out a Jell-O recipe, and I set out to make Lemon Chiffon Pie.

There are good things and bad things about this recipe, mainly good things. The best part, as with Orange Snow, is that it involves real, fresh ingredients, and grating and juicing a lemon are such pleasant, fragrant activities, and I know that the lemon will make the recipe taste that much nicer. Also, there is a custard component to the recipe, and preparing it requires attention and focus that make this into something of a meditative activity – Zen and the Art of Lemon Chiffon Pie. But that brings us to the bad part, the cooking of the eggs. Three slightly beaten egg yolks, a cup of water, and a quarter cup of sugar are cooked in a saucepan over low heat, and if this mixture is cooked too hot or too fast it becomes a sort of sweet egg-drop soup, which isn’t good for anything. The thing is, the book says to cook the mixture until it just comes to a boil, and I learned the hard way (again, as I did five years ago) that letting it come to a boil is overcooking it. I had to throw out a batch and start again – and this time I crossed out that part in the recipe.

Another thing I like about Lemon Chiffon Pie is that the “chiffon” part involves beaten egg whites. In general, I really like working with beaten egg whites, and again, getting them right takes a bit of attention and skill. This time I beat them up just a tad too stiff, making it difficult to incorporate them into the chilled custard/Jell-O mixture. However, since I’d made the mistake of making this on the day, instead of the night before, I had to just go with it.

lumpy chiffon mixture

So, boys and girls, today’s lesson is – don’t make eggy things when you’re in a rush.

Actually, it didn’t turn out too badly. After heaping the lemony egg mixture into a pre-baked pie crust (store brand, not as good as the name brand crust I used years ago) there was still a good amount left, and I put that into a couple of dessert glasses and popped all of it into the fridge to chill and firm up. Before going to the party we sampled the extra lemon filling, and it was pretty good, so I felt much better about bringing the pie to the party.

This may come as a shock to some of you, but a lot has changed in the last 25-30 years. Back in the day, food just got placed on the table and devoured. When we arrived at the party a couple of months ago, we were handed a notecard and asked to list all the ingredients of what we’d brought, and then I knew that Lemon Chiffon Pie was sunk. It looked and tasted delicious on its own, but a label proclaiming Jell-O as an ingredient, well, I figured that was the dessert equivalent of the bell and tin cup of the leper. About half of it got eaten before we left, which was a better outcome than I was expecting, and I did catch someone sampling it who admitted to liking it.

I’ll spare you – this time – from my rant about the current widespread persnicketiness about food. For now, let me just say that it shouldn’t be so difficult to enjoy something so fluffy and lemony.

lemon chiffon pie

If I’d had more time, maybe I would’ve added a Dream Whip garnish….

3 responses

  1. How did I not get any of this? Maybe the label was inadequate to let me know what it was…

    And… Was I there in 88? I sort of think so…


    1. To be fair, I could be more assertive in soliciting comments/opinions about the Jell-O things…
      My recollection is that pretty much everyone was there in 1988. Didn’t you come up with a certain half-Jewish half-Irish young lady?


  2. […] preparation of the Orange Chiffon Pie was marked by a surfeit of caution. This is a variant of the Lemon Chiffon Pie, and I didn’t want to repeat my mistake of overcooking the egg yolk mixture. I’m afraid […]


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