Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Improvising pie.

Have you ever been in a pickle when it comes to making dessert? There are just some times when you have to take matters into your own hands and make some crazy decisions in the name of sweet joy.

I've just had this happen to me again. Seems just when I need to start making Thanksgiving pie, I find myself stuck with the wrong ingredients -- and a crazy food restriction, too. I always enjoy a good challenge, though.

This challenge: make a pie. A particular pie -- a lemon pie. I had a great simple recipe from Mather Lodge from my new book, Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State. It's this simple:

Mather Lodge’s Lemon Icebox Pie

1 16-ounce package frozen lemonade concentrate
2 16-ounce tubs whipped topping
2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
4 graham cracker crusts

Blend concentrate, whipped topping and condensed milk. Pour into pie crust. Chill for one hour. Top with graham cracker crumbs and/or whipped topping if you choose.

Makes four pies.

So easy. Well, here's one of the challenges. About two weeks ago the ignitor on my stove went out. Dead. Kaput. I ordered the part and it finally arrived today -- but I have limited time in which to work. Hence the desire to make a no-bake pie like this particular lemon icebox recipe.

The second challenge: I'm in the middle of a corn syrup fast. I've had on-and-off reactions to corn products (but not sweet corn, which is what you get when you purchase corn on the cob)and to keep down the chances of running into the particular items that cause me rashes and swelling, I've just been avoiding it altogether. I went to get my ingredients and discovered some pretty startling things:

1. Frozen lemonade concentrate? Corn syrup is one of the main ingredients.
2. Graham cracker crusts? Yup, corn syrup.
3. Whipped topping? It IS corn syrup.

So three of my four ingredients were off-limits for me. I went home with my can of sweetened condensed milk and no clue what I was going to do.

At least, until I got home and went through the cabinets and the fridge. And what I figured out was, I could do this. I could make a good lemon icebox pie without touching the grocery store -- or any corn-related products -- again!

The start was the crust. You have to have some sort of crust for a pie to be called a pie -- else, it's custard or some other mess in a container. Pudding, if you will. Well, what did I have?

Traditional graham crackers, for the most part, were out -- though there are some Nabisco and Honey Maid graham crackers that don't include corn syrup. There are oatmeal cookies and ginger snaps. But I wanted something that wouldn't take away from that lemon flavor. So lemon cookies it was.

Now, I'll tell you this. You have two choices here. You can go with just the crumbs or blend in a half a stick of butter to bind it all together. However, it's really not necessary unless your cookies are stale.

So... those lemon cookies... I took a third of a pound package, put them in a ziptop bag and pounded them flat with a wee mallet. Those cookie crumbs I pressed into a standard pie pan and set aside.

So I had the can of sweetened condensed milk (which, by the way, is just milk and sugar, condensed. Really.) How could I make a lemon pie?

With lemon, of course. I happened to have some lemon juice, and I got a third of a cup set aside. The whipped cream I replaced with a block of cream cheese warmed to room temperature.

I blended together the lemon juice, cream cheese and the can of sweetened condensed milk until thoroughly incorporated and poured into that improvised crust.

And let me tell you what -- it makes a nice, lightly sweet and not too tart pie. Chilled in the fridge for a couple of hours, it sliced up nicely.

So... for the count:

A third of a pound of preferred cookies (lemon, ginger snaps, graham cracker, oatmeal), crushed (with or without a stick of butter)
A 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
A block of cream cheese
1/3 cup lemon juice

Beat the cookies into crumbs, press into pie pan. Blend all other ingredients together and pour into improvised pie crust. Chill a few hours, slice and serve.

How do you improvise your Thanksgiving pie?

Watch Kat talk about making this pie on


  1. You're a culinary genius!

  2. Psst, Kat, too late now, but if that's a gas oven, you can remove the igniter, gently take a bit of sandpaper to the important parts, clean it up, reinstall and you've got a working oven again. Hardest part, for me anyway, was getting down on the floor -- head in oven, rear sticking out, hellishly angled, to remove and reinstall. The second time I did it a few years later, I sanded and cleaned without removing the thing -- half the hellish angling involved. Never replaced the thing again.
    By the way, the pies sound yummy. Too bad I didn't see this earlier.

    1. I ended up doing exactly that. Thank you for the tip!


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