Civil War Project – I Should Have Known Better Lemon Pie

After my complete and total failure at Lemon Ginger Bread I though I would give baking from my Civil War Recipes Cookbook another try. I thought I would stick with the lemon theme but, try a pie instead.  I usually have better luck with pies. Also, I LOVE lemon desserts.

Overall this recipe was a success or would have been if I had followed my better judgement.  But, before we move into choices I made against my better judgement, let’s start with the crust before moving on to the filling.

Civil War Project: Lemon Pie

The original recipe for the crust reads as follows:

Pie Crust – For Fruit Pies

Take one pound of dried flour, and one pound of butter, well squeezed in a clean cloth, to get the salt out.  Break the butter with your fingers amongst the flour, as fine as possible, and then with a little cold water mix into a tolerably stiff paste.  Gently roll it, passing the roller in one direction only – from you. After this lightly fold it over, and set it aside from a quarter of an hour in a cool place; then repeat the rolling in the same manner, and let it stand another quarter of an hour. This is to be repeated once more.  Be sure to handle it as little as possible, and to keep it cool. Bake in a quick oven.

I was a little taken back by the equal parts butter and flour.  I have made many pie crust before, but never half butter half flour. However, I figure that you can’t really go wrong with more butter.  Although you can do too much butter and end up with a greasy puddle crust.  This crust was perfect! Crispy, buttery and light! Everything you want pie crust to be. It’s the kind of crust where you save and savor at the end.

Lemon Pie

Now let’s talk about the filling.  It’s sweet, tart and gooey and would have been better if I hadn’t been a total dunder head and added the pith of the lemon to the pie. Before you exclaim, “Doofus! What where you thinking?!” let me explain what I was thinking.  Which, really will not justify anything, but I feel compelled to defend myself.

The original recipe reads:

Lemon Pie

Take four lemons, grate the rind, squeeze the juice, chop the pulp very fine, four teacups of sugar, the yelks of six eggs, two teacups of milk, four tablespoons of cornstarch; beat well together and bake; beat with whites of the eggs with six tablespoonfuls of white sugar to a froth; when the pies are baked, put the froth over them, and set them in the oven for five minutes.

Note the part that says “grate the rind, squeeze the juice, chop the pulp very fine”. This kind of threw me for a loop. For some reason I read this to say to use the entire lemon. I was thinking that in 1863 they probably did not want to waste any food. I convinced myself that it would probably candy and I ‘ve enjoyed candied lemon rind in the past.

Lemon Pie

All of my rationalization was in vain.  Adding rind to a pie was a bad and stupid idea. Some bites where perfectly sweet and tart, but then I get a bite of rind and it was like I was suckered punched by a bitter angry lemon. I am in idiot who sometimes talks myself into idiot moves. It’s ok I said it, you can too.

Lemon Pie

Idiocy aside, after I tediously picked the rind pieces out the pie was super yummy.  The filling was sweet and tart, laid over a crisp buttery crust and topped with fluffy sweet meringue. Everything you would love in a lemon pie.  Whom ever the lady is that submitted this lemon pie recipe in 1863 she knew how to make a good lemon pie.  Although, her directions could have been a little more forthright, or I should have taken a super douse of brain vitamins.

See more Civil War Recipes!

Lemon Pie
Crust (makes 2 crusts)
  • 1 lb flour (about 3¼ cups)
  • 1 lb unsalted cold butter, cubed (4 sticks)
  • ½ cup cold water
Pie Filling
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 11 inch diameter tart pan
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a large bowl combine flour and cubed butter. Using a pastry cutter, cut the better into the flour until it resembles course cornmeal. Try and cut it up as small as possible, using your fingers helps. Add cold water, using floured hands work the dough together into a ball. If it's too dry add more water a tablespoon at a time. Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Tearing off half the pie dough. Roll into a ball and press down into a disk on a lightly floured surface. Using a flour rolling pin, roll the dough out to about ¼ inch think and 12 inches in diameter. Gently drape over tart or pie pan and form into the pan. Cut off excess and crimp edges. Prick bottom of crust using a fork. Lay parchment paper over top and fill with pie weights or dry pinto beans. Bake for 15 minutes, remove parchment and weights bake another 10 minutes. Set crust aside to cool.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine egg yolks, zest and sugar, beat until smooth. In a separate bowl whisk together milk, lemon juice and cornstarch until smooth. Add to egg mixture on low speed until well combined. Place baked crust (still in mold) on a sheet pan. Pour mixture into baked pie shell. Bake at 350 F for 30 - 45 minutes, or until the filling is a deep yellow. It will still have a jiggle to it and firm up once cool. Set aside and cool about 15 minutes.
  5. Raise the oven to 400 F.
  6. While pie is cooling add egg whites to a clean bowl of a stand mixer. Add 6 tablespoons of sugar. Using a whisk attachment beat the egg whites to stiff peaks to make meringue. Gently spread meringue over lemon pie filling. Return pie to the oven and bake another 5 to 10 minutes or until the meringue begins to brown.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool completely to set. Best if refrigerated over night.


  1. Gwen Morse says

    I like to make Shaker lemon pie,w hich uses the whole lemon (pith and all). The only part you discard is the seeds.

    I slice my lemons using a mandolin or my food processor. Then I macerate the slices in sugar for 2-3 days in the sugar from the recipe (1 cup of sugar per lemon for this pie).

    It’s a nice change of pace from “sweeter” lemon desserts but is not at all bitter. The sweeted pith has a bir of a chewy texture that I really like.

    You could easily finely dice the lemons (peel and all) and then macerate them in “4 teacups” of sugar.for a couple days and see how you like it.

    I’m intrigued by the half butter half flour pie crust recipe, I’ll have to give that a try!

    • Gwen Morse says

      Sorry, I was vague in my first comment.

      You keep the peel and pulp, but you PICK OUT THE SEEDS. All the lemon, EXCEPT THE SEEDS. So, I’m suggesting you dice the lemon in it peel, pick out the seeds, and the macerate everything else.

      EVen the Shakers couldn’t make lemon seeds edible, although I’m sure they tried :D.

  2. Monica says

    I have a Worlds Fair Book from 1893. You make me want to be brave and tough through the recipes and make something!! I totally heart this post with so much hearts! <3

  3. says

    Stuff happens, but you saved the pie. Still looks delicious! I love using old cookbooks. I have the same problem with very old knitting patterns. They assumed you knew what they meant and left out important details. Or in the past, we would have done something similar already ourselves, so we would have know what to do, whereas in our time, we need more information? Or maybe, we are better at how-to writing now? A fun challenge, nonetheless.

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