Monday, December 31, 2018

Tom Dryden's World-Famous Lemon Chess Pie (with step-by-step instructions)

It was a custom, in the rural Missouri town where I grew up, to bake a pie on New Year’s Eve, place it on a neighbor’s front porch, ring the doorbell, then run off into the night, leaving the recipient to enjoy the pie and wonder who left it.

At least it was until New Year’s Eve 1962 when Arlene Spoonmacher made a chocolate meringue pie using Ex-Lax in lieu of Hershey’s Cocoa and left it on Wanda Faye Green's front porch. Wanda Faye, Arlene later told the sheriff, had been making goo-goo eyes at her husband at church the previous Sunday. Wanda Faye survived but lost 12 pounds she didn’t need to lose. After that, nobody in town would touch a pie they or an immediate family member hadn’t made themselves, so the custom died out. 

Still, to this very day, I get a hankering for pie on New Year’s Eve. This year I decided to make chess pie. The decision was easy: It’s the only pie I know how to make.

Chess pie, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a southern speciality. It is rich, smooth, custardy and darn near foolproof. If I can make one, you can, too. Legend has it the pie got its name when someone who was wowed by what he was eating asked the cook what kind of pie it was. “It ain’t nothing special,” she drawled. “It’s jest pie.” 

Plain chess pie is good but lemon chess pie rises several notches above it when it comes to delicious delectability.

I usually make mine with bottled lemon juice but today’s pie is gonna be extra special because I’m making it with lemons from our next door neighbors’ tree, which is so heavily laden with ripe, tart fruit it is literally bending over.

Our neighbors' lemon tree. It's very pretty and
the lemon flower is sweet but the fruit of the poor lemon
is impossible to eat unless it's baked into Tom Dryden's
world-famous Lemon Chess Pie.

We have an open invitation to help ourselves, so I went over and picked three of them — lemons the size of softballs containing so much juice I only needed one to make this recipe. What I’ll do with the other two I haven’t a clue. 

Disregard the greenish color.
This is what lemons, fresh-from-the-tree, look like. 

And so, without further adieu — I know you’re anxious to start cooking — here’s everything you need to know to make Tom Dryden’s World-Famous Lemon Chess Pie.

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: Squeeze 1/2 cup of lemon juice from softball-sized lemon taken from neighbor’s tree. If your neighbors don’t have a lemon tree, buy some small ones at the store and squeeze them until you have half a cup of juice. (Helpful tip: Be sure to remove the seeds from the juice, otherwise someone could choke on them which wouldn’t get 2019 off to a good start for you or them.) If it’s too much work to squeeze the lemons, you can use ReaLemon bottled juice or juice from one of those plastic lemons you’ll find in the produce section in which case you don’t have to worry about seeds.

Dice that lemon rind into small pieces, as shown here

Step 3: Remove skin from half of the gigantic lemon (or from two small lemons), peel away and discard the pulp inside, and, using a zester, grate the skin. If you do not have a zester (the first time I made this pie I had to look online to find out what a zester is) you can do what I do and dice it into really, really tiny eensy-bitsy pieces with a sharp knife. 

Step 4:  Remove two frozen pie shells from freezer and allow them to come to room temperature — about 15 minutes. I should have done this before I started Step 1 but I didn’t. 

You know what butter looks like but everyone's so damn visually-oriented
 these days they expect a photo of just about everything
 so I'm showing you one here. 

Step 5: Nuke 2 cups of butter for about 40 seconds until it is soft but not melted. Place in large bowl of stand mixer. 

Surely you know what a bag of sugar looks like.
If you don't, stop right now because you
aren't going to be able to make this pie,
 you're too stupid.

Step 6: Add 2 cups of sugar. 

And the beat goes on.
For about two minutes or
until creamy.

Step 7: Beat butter and sugar until creamy.

Step 8: Go to fridge for eggs. Realize you don’t have any.

Step 9: Drive two miles to supermarket and buy eggs.

Aunt Margaret's mixer is used to beat the eggs.
Step 10: Using a different mixer (or the same one, once you have washed the beaters), beat 10 eggs thoroughly. (Helpful tip: Be sure to crack the eggs open, discard the shells, and place the yolks/whites in a bowl before beating.) In this picture I’m using our 1970s olive green General Electric portable mixer that was given to us as a wedding present by my Aunt Margaret, who was a terrific cook. Margaret had a major sweet tooth — she always had freshly-baked cakes and/or pies on hand, and kept a huge glass candy bowl filled with Brach’s Pick-A-Mix on her coffee table. Despite her sweet tooth, Aunt Margaret never weighed more than 100 pounds, if that. Aunt Margaret’s green mixer has moved with us to St. Louis, Chicago, Manhattan, Connecticut and Florida and we always think fondly of her whenever we use it. She would have most definitely approved of this pie. 

Do not add the lemon juice at this step
like I'm doing here. 

Step 11: Pour beaten eggs into butter/sugar mixture and beat until smooth. (I forgot to take a picture of this important step so I'm showing a picture of the lemon juice being added, which comes later. Try to imagine this cup contains the beaten eggs. You can imagine that without seeing a picture, can't you?)

Step 12:  Go to pantry for flour and corn meal. Realize you are out of flour.

Step 13: Return to supermarket to buy flour. 

Who would have thunk Clinton is a Lemon Chess Pie fan too?

Step 14: After noting that the recipe on the web site you are following calls for two cups of milk, realize that this isn’t the recipe for which you are famous — your Lemon Chess Pie recipe isn't made with milk. This recipe is for something called “Bill Clinton’s Lemon Chess Pie.” Given the vast quantities of butter, sugar, eggs and milk it contains, it’s probably one of the main reasons he had to undergo open heart surgery. 

Now you can add the lemon juice, as well
as the rest of the ingredients
Step 15: Feeling foolish, thinking you were making the recipe you’ve made for years (but, in your defense, you haven’t made for at least a year), add to butter/sugar/egg mixture two cups of milk, two tablespoons of flour, two tablespoons of corn meal, lemon juice and lemon zest.

Step 16:  Beat for a couple of minutes on ‘high.” (Helpful tip: Mixer should be on “high,” not you.)

Step 17: Call small dog over (if available) to lick up any mixture that splatters on the floor.

Step 18: Pour mixture into two pie shells.  

Step 19: Realizing you have enough mixture left over for two more pies, place filled pies in oven for 35 to 38 minutes.

Step 20: While pies are baking, return to supermarket to buy two more frozen pie shells.

Step 21: Remove pies from oven once the filling begins to brown around the edges. Don't let the pie crusts get too brown!

Step 22: Pour remaining mixture into the two new pie shells, and bake per step 19.

Four picture perfect pies

Step 23: Allow all four pies to cool.

Step 24: Take one pie to neighbor whose lemons you stole.

Step 25:  Take another pie to another neighbor.

Step 26: Slice into third pie and realize you should have tasted it before you gave it to your neighbors but then relax because …. this pie is incredible. Bill Clinton’s pie is much, much, much tastier than the one you’ve been making all these years but then, your wife is better than his — she doesn’t run maniacally for president then write tell-all books blaming everyone else but herself for her losses — and, all things considered, you’d rather be remembered for having a wonderful sweet wife than for having a stupid pie recipe.

Step 27: Over next two hours polish off third pie.

Step 28: Place fourth pie in fridge to share with your significant other. You’re not going out tonight because you don’t like to go out on New Year’s Eve — not that you have had any invitations anyway — and will be staying in to watch episodes 3 and 4 of “Escape at Dannemora” on Showtime for which Patricia Arquette is all but guaranteed a Best Actress Emmy.

Step 29:  Have a Happy New Year and remember to stay away from any chocolate pies found on your doorstep because they might not be chocolate after all. 

Bill Clinton’s Tom Dryden’s Famous Lemon Chess Pie
Makes two deep-dish or four regular-sized pies

(Note: I changed Bill Clinton's recipe ever-so-slightly to, as the judges on American Idol used to tell contestants, “make it my own.”)

Unbaked pie shell
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
10 beaten eggs (shells removed)
2 cups milk — 1% is fine
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons corn meal
1/2 cup lemon juice
Zest from 1/2 of a huge lemon or 2 small lemons

Mix ingredients thoroughly (beat eggs separately and add to butter/sugar mixture) in order listed, pour into four pie shells, and bake 35-38 minutes @ 350 degrees.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

16 gifts grandpas most assuredly don't want this year, which will come as news to the editors of Esquire magazine

The other day I saw an article entitled “16 Best Gift Ideas for Grandpas” from the editors of Esquire. I clicked it on, knowing Esquire's gift recommendations would provide fodder for a blog post and, sure enough, they did. 

Here are the 16 items the editors of Esquire recommended its readers give their grandpas this holiday season, and this grandpa’s response to those recommendations.

1. Bay-Berk Wooden Multi-Game set from Neiman-Marcus, $180, “for the grandpa with a competitive side.” The set contains a board and playing pieces for two games, chess and backgammon. I most definitely have a competitive side but I don’t play chess or backgammon and don’t know (or want to know) any grandpa who does. 

2.  Thin-Optics Keychain Reading Glasses, $24.95. Buying grandpa a pair of reading glasses without knowing the magnification he requires would be as idiotic as buying him a pair of slacks without knowing his waist or inseam. 

3.  Eagle Creek 2-in-1 Travel Pillow, $27.95 from r.e.i. “for the grandpa who could use some neck and lumbar support when he travels.” Of the 16 gifts suggested by Esquire, this is the only one I might actually use but if my grandson truly cared about my comfort when I’m flying long distances, he would buy me a first-class ticket that would get me a lie-flat seat with its own full-size pillow and duvet.

4. All Saints Leather Driving Gloves, $98 at Nordstrom, “for the grandpa with a seriously sweet car (or car collection) to drive around town.” If my grandson spent $98 buying me driving gloves, I’d put them on once: To slap some sense into him. Who the hell would be caught dead wearing driving gloves?

5. John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” for the grandpa who knows soul-changing music when he hears it whether it’s in vinyl or CD form. Do the editors of Esquire really think today's grandpas are so out of it that we listen to music on a record player or CD player? Do their grandpas watch TV in black and white? Do they run outside to their outhouses when they need to take a whiz? Do they light candles for illumination when the sun goes down? How patronizing. If you insist on giving grandpa music, give him an iTunes gift card so he can choose what he wants to listen to and download it himself. 

6. Ekster Leather Minimal Wallet, $98, from “for the grandpa who needs a minimalist wallet … to replace that money clip.”  I never used a money clip so I don’t need something to replace it.

7. Frankenstein Pique Polo Shirt by Travis Matthew, $89.95 at Nordstrom “for the grandpa with good style, whether on the golf course, at the club or around the house.” I don’t golf. I only go to our club when my wife drags me to some social event in which case I have to dress up, and around the house I wear gym shorts and a 1998 U.S. Open Tennis tournament t-shirt, so this grey polo shirt with white stripes isn’t for me.

8. The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, $50.75 “for the grandpa who is a history junkie and has time on his hands.” Millions of grandpas don’t need to watch a movie to learn about LBJ’s war. They were there and many are still having flashbacks. If the editors of Esquire think any grandpa who was young in the 1960s or early '70s will find this multi-volume movie set entertaining, they are seriously stupid.

9. Google Home Voice Activated Speaker, $99 at Nordstrom “ for the grandpa who likes to stay connected.” Of the nine items recommended for grandpa so far, this is the third from Nordstrom. How much is Nordstrom’s paying Esquire to pimp this stuff?

10. Promise Me Dad” by Joe Biden, $28 at amazon “for the grandpa who values family and service above all.” I’ve already read this book that details Bo Biden’s losing struggle with brain cancer and, as a father myself, felt Joe Biden’s pain and shared his sorrow. Unfortunately, Biden devoted about half of the book to promoting his own brilliance, clearly setting the stage for a run in 2020. I finished the book admiring Biden for the grace and strength with which he faced every parent’s ultimate nightmare, but convinced more than ever that as a politician, he’s a clueless, self-promoting dick.

11. UGC scuff Slipper, $79 from (surprise, surprise!) Nordstrom “for the grandpa who knows how to appreciate downtime around the house.” These slippers appear to be the standard slip-on variety one can buy at Walmart or Costco for $15 or less. Lined with wool, they’re going to start stinking after a month or so absorbing grandpa's foot sweat so grandpa will have to throw them away, just like he has thrown away every pair of slippers he has ever received for Christmas. If you are convinced grandpa will be impressed by expensive slippers, buy him a pair at Costco, put ‘em in a Nordstrom box and spend the extra $60 buying him something that won’t make him feel like you think he has one slippered foot in the grave.

12. Olympia Provisions Favorite Sausage Collection, $30, from food52 “for the grandpa who knows his way around quality butchered meats.”  I never sausage a stupid gift idea -- three imported gourmet processed sausage sticks. However, if any of my midwestern readers know where I can buy Rice's, a pork sausage brand my father used to sell in his grocery store in the 1960s, you can give me a gift by letting me know where I can buy it. To this day I judge all sausages against Rice's and have yet to find any one-tenth as tasty. (A funny side story: My uncle, an army man, was stationed in Hawaii and he, too, loved Rice's sausage. Before he flew there, he had my dad freeze a long loaf of Rice's which he packed in his suitcase, assuming that, by the time he arrived, the sausage would be thawed out so he could fry it up. Unfortunately the airline lost his luggage. By the time it showed up days later, the sausage was rotten and he had to throw away everything in his suitcase. And now back to our regularly-scheduled blog post.)

13. Warby Parker-Keene prescription lenses, $95, from “for the grandpa who wants to update his everyday look.” Why are Esquire’s editors obsessed with eyeglasses? Because they think glasses make them look smart? Any grandpa who reads their recommendations knows they aren’t. See #2.

14. A box set of two books, ’Sapiens’ and ‘Homo Deus” by Yuval Noah Harari, $95 at amazon “for the grandpa who has some thoughts about the existential crisis facing the human race.” There isn’t a grandpa in the U.S. — hell, the world — who wants this except, perhaps, Yual Noah Harare’s grandpa and I doubt that even he would read it though he would in all likelihood point it out to his friends and say “my grandson wrote it.”

15. Cutter & Buck NFL Team Sweater (with the logo of grandpa’s favorite team),  $120 from … that big Seattle-based department store known for excellent customer service with branches in upscale malls in most big cities whose name, unlike the editors of Esquire, I am not being paid to promote, “for the grandpa who never misses his favorite team’s kickoff.”  Like a growing number of grandpas, I don’t give a shit about NFL football since the owners of its teams allowed their overpaid players to “take a knee” following the example of Colin “Won’t Someone Please Hire Me?” Kaepernick. I hope the NFL goes belly-up and its players have to take jobs at Wendy's.

16. The Glenlivit 15-year-old Single Malt Scotch, $55, from The Reserve Bar, “for the grandpa who never said no to a good Scotch.” I’ve got news for you, Esquire.  All those Scotch-swilling grandpas died off 30 years ago. Today’s grandpas prefer white goods — vodka, tequila or rum — or handcrafted small-batch American bourbons. Yes, Scotch is being rediscovered by Millennials but take it from this grandpa who, for 20 years, worked on wine and sprits advertising accounts: Boomers don’t drink Scotch.

However, if one of my grandsons were ever go to work for Esquire, I’d drink the whole bottle in one sitting.