Just as the weather turns warm and citrus cocktails and desserts beckon, a triumvirate of forces — bad weather, crop disease and drug cartels — have created a lime shortage and skyrocketing prices. Bartenders, chefs and home cooks alike stand in the aisles, green fruit in hand, wondering if the old lemon can do the job.
Instead of substituting, let's give the humble lemon some time in the limelight for its own magical flavor and texture. Ohio or Shaker Lemon Pie goes a step further than the average smooth and fluffy meringue pie, since it uses paper-thin slices of the fruit macerated in sugar, no gummy thickeners required. Not just the juice, but the skin, pith and meat are all in there. If you love the slivers of orange peel in marmalade, bitters in your cocktails and the tartness of lemonade, this is your jam.
Speaking of the unglamorous and overlooked, this version is adapted from the mid-'90s Joy of Cooking (once a star in everyone's kitchen, now relegated to the role of Pretty Girl's Best Friend in the age of the celebrity chef). The pie has a double crust — if you have a handle on homemade, you will never go back, but if you go with pre-made, nobody here will cast the first lemon. There is time to roll out and chill a crust, if you're up for it, since the lemons and sugar have to rest overnight. As for the fruit itself, you want lemons that are meaty with thin skins — too much of the white pith will make the filling bitter. If you're worried, trim away the pith with a knife and toss in an extra 1/4 cup of sugar. Try it as-is first, then experiment with Meyer lemons or an added teaspoon of grated fresh ginger if you want to get all fancy.
Ingredients and method:
Two prepared and chilled pie crusts
2 large lemons
1 3/4 to 2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, beaten
Zest the lemons, then halve them lengthwise. Lay the halves flat on a cutting board and slice them as thin as you can with your sharpest knife. Toss the seeds, then move the slices, zest and juice from the board into a glass or stainless steel bowl with the sugar and salt. Stir the mixture well, then cover it and leave it out on the counter overnight or up to 24 hours. You can go as short as 2 hours, but the lemon slices won't get as tender.
Once you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425 F and lay the bottom crust in a 9-inch pan. Beat 4 whole eggs well. Stir the lemon mixture well, add the beaten eggs and stir well again. Pour it all into the pie crust and lay the second crust on top, pinching the edges and poking vents into the top.
Bake the pie at 425 F for 10 minutes, then lower the oven to 325 F. Bake for another 45 minutes until golden. You may want to put foil on the edges to keep them from burning. Cool the pie completely before you serve it so the filling can really set.
Now take a bow, little lemon.