by Malinda Fillingim
I knew something was wrong when my step-father, Carl, the Marine from Walnut Cove, told me he was taking me to a restaurant in downtown Swansboro looking over the White Oak River. We never went out to eat unless we were out of town, or something bad had happened.
I couldn’t think of anything I had done wrong in my third grade class. My beloved teacher, Mrs. Virginia Frazelle, was the center of my world back in 1969. So I thought something else bad must have happened. I was worried.
We sat at a table outside, the sun warming us that spring day, fishing boats passing by single file. Carl told the waitress we were both going to have lemon meringue pie. Milk for me, and coffee for him.
I had yet to met a pie I didn’t like. Buttermilk pie, mock apple pie, vinegar pie, chess pie, all the fruit pies, hand-pies, Tar-Heel pie, all favorites various relatives made and I devoured.
So, I assumed I’d like the new-to-me lemon meringue pie.
I was half right. But, I was half wrong.
With the first bite of the standing tall meringue, I smiled. Soft, sweet, and melt-in-my-mouth good. Then, I took a bite of the lemon part and quickly washed it down with my milk, exclaiming to Carl that the cook forgot to add sugar to it.
He laughed and told me he ordered that pie on purpose. He had something to tell me, something he wished he didn’t have to say. I can still remember his words, “Life is a lot like this here pie. Some of it is sweet; some of it’s sour and not sweet, just like this pie. But put it together and it tastes just right.”
I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, but I listened because he had never steered me wrong in the three years he had been my step-father.
He continued to tell me that he was being deployed for his second tour of Vietnam, going to fight a war far from me, and far from the taste of pies.
I wanted to cry, to ask him to stay, but I knew he had to go. We sat there eating our pie, the sweet and the sour all mixed together until the last crumb was gone. He took my hand and told me when he got back from Vietnam; we’d only eat chocolate pie with whipped cream on it.
I didn’t eat chocolate pie for almost 14 months, waiting for the Marine who taught me about life one pie at a time.
Lemon Meringue Pie
1 nine inch pie shell, deep dish, baked to light brown and cooled
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 ½ cups cold water
3 large egg yolks beaten slightly
2 tsp. zest lemon peel
½ cup lemon juice
2 Tbs. butter
Mix sugar, cornstarch, and water in saucepan and heat. Before boiling point, add lemon juice and zest, then bring to a boil for about one minute and turn down.
Add ½ cup of this saucepan mixture to egg yolk to temper.
Then add egg yolks to saucepan and cook til thick, 1-2 minutes, stir a few times.
Then add butter and stir in until it blends in and thickens.
Add this to cooled and cooked pie shell.
Meringue (preheat oven 400 degrees)
Use a clean, dry glass bowl.
3 large or extra large egg whites that are room temperature.
1 tsp. good baking powder
4 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. corn starch
1 tsp. good vanilla
Add 1 tsp. of baking powder to the egg whites with an electric mixer on high.
Slowly, while still mixing, add the 4 Tbs. of sugar.
When stiff peaks start taking shape, add 1 tsp of cornstarch and 1 tsp vanilla, less if your peaks are not strong.
Continue until you think your peaks can stand alone for the most part.
Gently spread the meringue around the lemon part of the pie, making sure the edges are tucked in a bit to make a seal.
Place in preheated oven for about 12-13 minutes, don’t open oven, put peak thru glass door if you have one. If not, look at ten minutes.
Malinda Dunlap Fillingim had the good fortune to move to her step-father’s hometown, Walnut Cove, NC when she was in eighth grade. Curious by nature, Malinda asked Mama Dunlap so many questions about her cooking that she finally gave up some of the old recipes she carried in her head. Malinda is an ESL teacher at Cape Fear Community College and lives in Leland.