I’ve been suffering from LemonMeringuePieMakeaPhobia since that fateful day when I was about 7 years old.
I don’t talk about it much, it’s just one of those background things.
It was a grey school holiday day and me and my 12 year old brother, Scott Griffiths, were bored, bored, bored.
‘Mum, we’re bored’.
‘Why don’t you cook something? That would be fun!’ (My Mum is NOT known for her culinary skills and so this would be something done entirely by us.)
Great idea! We find every recipe book in the house and make a big pile. (20 mins). Start pouring through them and decide on the one with pictures of the completed food (40 mins). Now, to decide on THE recipe… the last in the book - the toughest one, but the grandest - The LEMON MERINGUE PIE (60 mins.) Total time so far: 2 hrs.
The recipe is SO long and SO complicated that Scott decides we’ll simply start at the top and do each thing as we come to it. I have no idea - so that sounds good.
‘Mum, what’s a tbsp?’ ‘A tablespoon, darling’. ‘What does that look like?’
We knew nothing. Absolutely nothing. Could barely make toast.
So after an hour (Total time so far: 3 hours), we have actually made the base and it’s in a dish and Mum has turned on the oven and we’re about to put that in and the recipe says:
Take 5 lemons….
We don’t have lemons.
Three hours in, cooking Lemon Meringue Pie and neither Scott nor I have thought that Lemon Meringue Pie is going to need lemons. Oh great….
A plan. We need a plan.
Auntie Marge…. Auntie Marge has lemons out the back of her house (everyone in your street was called ‘Auntie’, back then). Auntie Marge also has a scary dog.
Scott will steal 5 lemons while I am a decoy at the front door. I’m given some elaborate story to remember and we cross the road for the only time I’ve been an Accessory to a Theft.
‘Hi Auntie Marge’ (Scott is disappearing down her driveway).
‘Well, if it isn’t little Shaula… how can I help you today?’ (Bark, bark, bark - scary dog INSIDE house… this is good).
‘Um… (have totally forgotten story…) ah…. um… I think I have to tell you something about biscuits?' (oh no - this is bad, I’ve forgotten the story… really forgotten… )
‘Do you need something to make them, like sugar or milk maybe?’ (I love you, Auntie Marge.)
‘Oh yes, some sugar!’ BIG smile. This is not the story, but her story is better.
‘I’ll just go and get some’.
‘NO!’ (The kitchen window.. she’ll see Scott at the lemon tree). ‘Have you seen my pretty shoes?’ Stall. Stall. Blabble. Blabble.
I see Scott out of the corner of my eye. He has lemons. Lemons.
‘Bye Auntie Marge.’
‘I’ll just get the sugar. Come in.’
I’ve never been in Auntie Marge’s on my own and it feels a bit weird, but everything works out ok. I come back home with a cup of sugar that we don’t need.
‘I’ve got the lemons’ says Scott flatly.
‘Great’, I say unenthusiastically.
‘Want to take a break?’
And that’s where we left the Lemon Meringue Pie… unmade, a bunch of decades ago. Three hours and more to not make a Lemon Meringue Pie. Clearly they’re unmakeable - I’ve eaten them wistfully at cafe’s over the years, comparing, choosing the best - admiring tall ones, waiting for perfectly tangy fillings.
Until last night.
Something clicked in the Universe. The circle had come around again and it was time to try again.
I was way too scared to try from scratch - I got a box of ‘make it yourself’ with everything pre-done.
I was still scared, but I’m older, sillier. Braver.
And suddenly, in about 20 minutes, there it was in front of me. The Lemon Meringue Pie that we never finished.
Right there in my kitchen, coming out of the oven and it was all packety and not nearly good enough, but you know what? I’ve never been more excited about cooking anything in my life.
I’ve got another box to make and this time I’ll make the middle bit, the lemon filling from scratch. I just found the recipe on the internet - couldn’t be easier. Bit by bit I’ll learn those three layers until no box is needed and I’ll have conquered it, that unmakeable Lemon Meringue Pie.
And so why am I telling you this story? Well, I’m just guessing you’ve got your own ‘Lemon Meringue Pie’ that you can’t get your head around and maybe, just maybe, this will start the ball rolling for you to retry something that failed a long, long time ago.
With love from the kitchen.