The Little Lemon Tree That Could!

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This is the story of the little lemon tree that lives in my living room.  My mom bought me the tree for my birthday two years ago. I was told it might not produce fruit right away, or it might even die since I live near Chicago, and you know how cold it gets.  Lemon trees love sunshine, which we have in short supply. Plus, I have no greenhouse.  Just a chilly living room with a big, old window that isn’t sealed very well anymore.

This is how it looked when I first brought it home.  Scrawny, but nice leaves.  I kept it outside that first summer, nurtured it, and it even produced lots of pretty and very fragrant blossoms with teeny tiny future lemons on the tips. Unfortunately, it was late in the season and they all fell off.  No lemons.
It turned cold and I had to bring it inside.  It didn’t do well and lost most of its leaves.  In fact, at one point I thought it was dead.  It had to live next to two other plants in the living room, one which is thirty-four years old.  I think my little lemon tree was encouraged to live by the old man plant it stood next to over the harsh winter.  There was no way it was going to give up. So I waited until it was warm enough and it went back outside – then things changed.  It grew blossoms again and this time, the lemons started to grow, albeit very slowly.  By the time they looked like tiny lemons it was autumn again, and I had to bring it back in when it grew cold.  It seemed inevitable that they would fall off as they did the winter before. But for some unknown reason, they didn’t.  The lemons grew larger and the leaves didn’t fall off at all.  I think it must have adjusted to its environment.  I ended up with six beautiful lemons, which I thought was pretty good for growing in the living room. 
Gorgeous!  So now – what to make with my few precious lemons?  It was Easter, so I decided we needed a great dessert.  What better than a Shaker lemon pie where the entire filling is paper thin slices of the entire lemon?  I went to my cookbook shelves, got the 1950’s Shaker cookbook, and found the pie I wanted.  The first step was to soak the slices in sugar for at least a couple hours. 

Aren’t they gorgeous?!  I probably went and inhaled their sweetness every fifteen minutes. It was intoxicating.
In the meantime, I made my favorite crust recipe and prepared to make the pie.  I could hardly wait for it to cool.  After Easter dinner, I carefully cut it into wedges.  Anticipation.  Turns out it was heavenly – and worth the two-year wait.  With the remaining lemons, I will probably make lemon curd or a small batch of marmalade.  Or maybe another pie.  Here it is in case you want to try it. 

Ohio Shaker Lemon Pie

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into bits
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup very cold water
Heavy cream for brushing on crust
Granulated sugar for sprinkling on top crust

Lemon Filling:
2 large lemons – or 3 medium
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, room temperature

Lemon Whipped Cream:
2 teaspoons finely grated or minced lemon peel
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup chilled whipping cream
Small slices of lemon, for garnish

1. Prepare crust: Place flour in a mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in shortening until crumbly. Stir salt into cold water and stir to dissolve. Drizzle over flour mixture. Stir with a fork and mix lightly until dough holds together. Divide dough in half and form into flat discs, handling dough as little as possible. Wrap discs in wax paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
2. For Filling: Using a very sharp knife, slice the lemons, rind and all, into paper thin slices, removing seeds. Place lemon slices and any accumulated juices in a mixing bowl. Stir in granulated sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Set lemons aside for at least 2 hours.
3. When you are ready to make the pie, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove one of the pastry discs from the refrigerator. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface or between pieces of waxed paper or plastic wrap, and fit into a 9-inch pie pan.
4. Whisk, or use an electric mixer to beat the eggs. Stir beaten eggs into lemon slices and gently mix well. Spoon lemon mixture into pastry-lined pie plate.
5. Roll out remaining disc of dough and fit over top of pie. Fold dough edges under bottom crust edges and flute attractively. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush top crust with heavy cream. Do not use milk. All you need is a little bit, so use the cream that you will be whipping later for the topping. After brushing top crust with cream, sprinkle top with a little granulated sugar to just cover. Using a sharp knife, cut several slits on top crust to let steam escape while baking.
6. Bake pie on the center rack of oven for 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Immediately reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 35-45 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden color and the filling feels firm to the touch in the center of pie. Remove pie from oven and place on a cooling rack and cool completely. The pie can be served at room temperature, or chilled.
7. To serve pie: Stir the finely minced or grated lemon peel into the powdered sugar to combine. Place the whipping cream in mixer bowl of electric mixer or hand mixer. Beat cream until soft peaks just start to form. Sprinkle on lemon-sugar mixture and beat until peaks are still soft, but firmer. For each serving of pie, place on plate with a dollop of cream on top of pie and place a small lemon slice into cream.

Note: This pie is more tart than sweet, and the lemon-sugar whipped cream adds the little bit of sweetness that is needed. It is an intensely flavored lemon pie, and Meyer lemons are preferred if you are lucky enough to have access to them! They are the best!

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