by Ruth Raymond from North Vancouver, BC
A dear friend of mine once did an oil painting of my mom’s lemon meringue pie. The painting is titled, “Jean Odlum’s Lemon Meringue Pie.” It’s fitting that mom’s pie has been immortalized in this way, because it is the stuff of legend.
My mom made hundreds of pies in her lifetime. And many of those were of the lemon meringue variety. But there were two particular ones that stood out so vividly as to inspire oil paintings. The first sparked the legend; 50 years later, the second sealed the deal.
In the case of the first inspirational pie, Mom baked it back in the ’40s. Hers was not a classic ’40s kitchen, though, as she and my father lived at Triple Island, a lighthouse north of the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Mom was a 17-year-old bride when she stepped onto that rock, and she surely didn’t know what she was getting into. But those were the best years of her life, up there with my dad. Learning how to run a household that got grocery delivery only once a month – if they were lucky. Learning how to delight in the simple things.
One of those simple things was the occasional pie, and of course, the one-of-a-kind legend-starting lemon confection that went down in our family history.
That soft-peaked masterpiece tasted so delicious that it overshadowed all other pies, lemon meringue or otherwise. The filling danced on the tongue with such exquisite tartness, even a half-century later the thought of it causes puckering.
It happened well before my time, but I had heard the story often enough to know there would never be another pie as mouth-scrunchingly delicious as that one. All my life, whenever an occasion warranted a lemon meringue pie, the subject of that particular pie (and of the impossibility of duplicating it) came up.
Mom’s second legend-worthy lemon meringue was one that she made sometime in the 90s for a dinner with friends visiting from Japan. We were all around the table, Mom standing, making the first cut into the glorious meringue.
As she drew the knife back and began a delicate sawing motion, the pie squeaked. With each movement of the knife, it squeaked. It squeaked on a slightly different note during the forward sawing motion than it did during the backward sawing motion. Everyone began to laugh. The more it squeaked, the more we laughed.
She slowed the knife down, but the squeaks only became longer. She sped the knife up, and the squeaks sped up too. The laughing continued, and Mom kept having to pause to catch her breath. Even our conservative Japanese guests were in tears by the time the final piece was cut. Later, we discussed our theories – I maintain it was the flaky crust, while others were convinced that the meringue caused the squeaking. We’ll never know; the results can’t be duplicated.
It was her first and only musical lemon meringue pie. And the subject of that pie, along with that of the Triple Island pie, always come up together whenever I attempt to make a lemon meringue. Mine are neither remarkable nor musical. They don’t make you pucker. They don’t make the slightest squeak. But they are important, because they cause the family pie legend to continue being told and savoured. And that means my mom, and her pies can live forever.