Rena Belle Would Be Proud

Lemon Meringue Icebox Pies
So, what do you think?  Is that a gorgeous Lemon Meringue Icebox Pie or what?  Both of them, even. I do believe Rena Belle would be proud, for sure.

If you have seen the front cover to the new Southern Living magazine, you have seen a similar picture...only theirs is of a Lemon Meringue Ice CREAM pie...not the same at all.  I took the latest issue to Mom this morning, and just as I had predicted, she asked me to "make her one." Only, she was specific with her special request:  make one like Rena Belle used to make...meaning she wanted Lemon Meringue Icebox Pie.

If you ever visited us when we lived in Henning, you know the name Rena Belle.  I've posted about that wonderful woman before.  She was so much more than The Help; she was the majordomo of our little household. And, she was a fantastic cook to boot.  My favorite dessert...and Mom's too...was her Lemon Meringue Icebox Pie.  I think I've told you that she used to make lemon for me, and a chocolate one for Bro J.  I've tried to recreate it as best I could from memory, given the amount of time that has passed and the fact that she didn't write any recipe down. I am not a big fan of meringue anyway (I used to scrape it off the pie and just eat the lemon-filling and crust...:-), so it isn't one of those "mile high" versions.  [Scroll down for the recipe.]

Speaking of The Help, I can't wait to see that movie.  A good friend from Greenwood, MS, had several posts on Facebook back when they were filming it, so I feel more than a little connection.  Of course, having grown up in the South in the mid-fifties, sixties, and early seventies...and having Help in the house for all my younger years...I imagine I'll recognize a theme or two, don't you?

Let's see, when I was a couple of months old, Momma went back to work.  She was a social worker with the State of Tennessee in Shelby County, and being a Mom for the first time at 33, she said she could be a better mother if she worked outside of the home rather than in it.  Of course, she made sure that I would be cared for while she and Daddy were working.  After all, she had grown up in houses with Help who performed the chores and provided the childcare, so this was a natural for her.

Enter Sarah.

I don't really remember Sarah, and I only have a couple of fuzzy photos of her.  She was with us until she made the mistake of paddling me with one of those paddleball (wooden) paddles for some infraction or other.  [Oh, I know what the infraction was, but I'm not committing it to text.] 

After that, Momma had to fire Sarah before Papaw shot her...or so the story goes.  Papaw (my grandfather Keaton) was my protector from the day I entered this world...he had a hair-trigger temper...and it was a different time. He was just one generation removed from the Civil War, having grown up hearing about the death of his Grandfather Cummings following the battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia. What more can I say?

Next came Ruth.  Papaw hired her, so he made sure he found someone to his liking. Ruth was tall, big-boned, and good-as-gold.  She let me do pretty much as I pleased, so that means she was probably plenty smart, too.  She was with us until Bro J was born, and we moved from Memphis to Henning.

There, we were first cared for by Arbella, who was married to Sam...who was Daddy's right-hand man.  Arbella loved Her Baby (as she always called Bro J).  Me?  Not so much.  No matter.  Just a year after that move, I started to kindergarten, so I was out of her hair most of the day anyway, which was probably a good thing.

Arbella was with us for a few years...until she kinda lost it and started talking to inanimate objects.  I vividly remember her blasting away verbally at the iron one day when I was about 7 or 8.  That was right before she got a gun to try to blast away Sam.  He survived, but I think she went to Western State for a little while to recover.

After a series of temporaries, Rena Belle came to our rescue.  And the rest, as they say, is our history. She lived in a little house a few blocks south of where we lived, guarded over by her faithful dog named Danny Boy. She was in our kitchen Monday through Friday before Daddy left for work at 7:00, and she stayed until Momma came home from work at 4:45.  She washed, ironed, cleaned, cooked, and cared for us...and most of what I know about any of those things, I learned from her.

She was famous for getting dirty clothes into the washing machine in record time...sometimes before they had even been pronounced "dirty" by the wearer.  And, she could starch things to where they could stand up on their own. 

She loved to bake sweets, and she taught me how by allowing me to make as big a mess of the kitchen as possible.  And, she loved to laugh, a laugh that went all the way to the crinkles around her eyes...but she always covered her mouth when she did.

[Now, before some of you get your knickers in a twist, please recall what I said:  it was a different time.  And, regardless of how it sounds now as I am recalling the story, please pause to consider something very important:  did I turn out the way I have because I was raised by such strong women of color? For sure, Papaw would have disowned me in 2008...although I'm not certain for which of my transgressions:  voting for a Democrat, voting for a black man, or voting for someone from Illinois?]


Anyway, I'm happy to report that today is a calm and restful one for Mom, one in which her pain is being well-managed.  She's responded well to the higher doses of her meds.  No sign of the congestion that was plaguing her this weekend.  I'm headed back over to Hospice Home now with another bowl of Brunswick Stew for dinner, and I hope N/M/E's saving room for her dessert.

A slice of Lemon Meringue Icebox pie.  Just like Rena Belle used to make.


Rena Belle's Lemon Meringue Icebox Pie

1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk (We just called it "Eagle Brand"...:-)
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 1 large lemon's worth)
Grated rind of the lemon
4 eggs, separated
4 T. sugar
2 T. white Karo syrup (opt.)
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar (opt.)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 9" graham cracker pie crust (purchased or homemade...see below)

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. 

In a large bowl, mix the Eagle Brand, lemon juice, lemon rind, and the egg yolks together.  Beat until thickened.  Pour into the prepared pie shell. Set aside.

Make meringue in a separate bowl by beating egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff enough to form peaks. Add sugar, syrup, and vanilla.  Beat again until stiff.

Cover pie filling with meringue, sealing all the way to the edges of the crust.  Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until peaks begin to brown slightly.  Cool a bit before putting in refrigerator to chill.

Chill thoroughly before cutting.  Enjoy!

(Go ahead and double the recipe.  You'll be glad you made two!)


Graham Cracker Crust for 9" pie

9-10 graham crackers (about 1 "sleeve" of a box)
4 T. butter, melted
4 T. sugar

Crush the graham crackers into a fine powder.  Mix with butter and sugar.  Press into 9" pie plate.


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