In-Laws and Lemon Pie

It was our first mixed holiday. Since his mom and grandmother would not arrive until Friday, we decided to cut the turkey two days late. We popped in the extra table leaf and stashed our toiletries so as not to clutter the bathroom counter. My mom dressed the table with a chocolate cloth and crystal. She cooked for days.

Hailing from Mississippi, the Trailblazer pulled up just after five in the Georgia afternoon. Grandma came bearing fat, yellow lemons picked right off the tree. I’ve never seen ones so big. When I mistook them for oranges she corrected, “They’re YELLOW!”

Ah yes, just excuse my idiocy.

I’ve met my in-laws only three times before, twice in Mississippi and once at the wedding. There’s more of them, of course, than just mom and grandma. There’s dad and his parents and his four brothers, who would be my uncles, and my husband’s two brothers, and the almost fiancee of one brother. They are everywhere from Long Beach to Durham and many places between.

His mother and grandmother live together, mostly unhappily. I think they try to love one another, but years of scars and tears welt up all ugly and raw and keep them from seeing each other clearly. That’s mostly the nature of family. I just hug them both a ton, especially Grandma, and try to cover all those sorry disgraces with love.

Grandma beamed over that swollen fruit and with almost no prompting said it was too bad she didn’t bring her lemon pie recipe.

Pie? My ears perked up and all the little baby hairs on my neck stood at attention. Not that I think she was trying to get me, but in case she was, she did. Pie trumps. Running full speed and tripping over myself to fall into that trap, I asked, “Well, do you know the recipe by heart?” And sho nuff she did. Just so happens we were short a dessert in the turkey-day spread, so Grandma and I resolved to make lemon pie. Together.

I’d like to cite some brilliant analogy describing the lemon-pie-making experience in all its awkward glory. But mostly, it was like a new wife and her grandmother-in-law trying to make a pie together.

I learned, in a state close to shock, that cornstarch turns translucent when mixed with sugar and water and stirred over heat long enough. I learned that I don’t stir well and should scrape the pan infinitely more as I attempt to stir better. I learned to fork a crust and found that I should fork the crust infinitely more as I attempt to fork better.

“How’s it going in here?” asked mom.

“I’m trying really hard to let her do it, since I could do it so much faster,” responded Grandma.
“Trying really hard.”

Ah yes, just excuse my learning disability.

She did try really hard though, and she only took the utensil from me once to improve my forking. She helped me see that I don’t have to do it all perfectly, adding lemon juice by taste and using terms like “heaping tablespoon.” She instructed me to sit down a while and let the crust bake, when in my urgency I felt sure that violated all principles of efficiency. She showed me that efficiency is less important. She took time, never mind how much, to impart a family recipe. She didn’t storm out or sigh angrily or reprimand, she could have since we’re kin. But instead she stood right there beside me.

And she even let me lick the pan.

Well, she said if I didn’t want it, she really did, but if I wanted it to go ahead.

Grandma’s Lemon Pie

Because learning from our in-laws is as precious as it is difficult.

1 Cup

1 Dash

4 Heaping Tbsp

1 ½ Cup

¾ Cup







Lemon Juice

Eggs, separated

Pie Crust

  1. Heat oven to 425º. Prepare pie crust or obtain prepared pie crust. Roll dough onto an 8x8x2 pie pan. Fork the dough heavily all over the bottom and sides to release trapped air. Place crust in oven and bake until cooked through and golden around the edges, about 15 minutes.
  2. In a saucepan combine the sugar, salt, and cornstarch with a wooden spoon. Add water and turn stove on medium high heat. Stir continuously, being careful to constantly scrape the sides of the pan, until translucent lumps begin to form.
  3. Reduce heat and stir until all the liquid becomes a thick, clear pudding-like consistency. Remove from heat completely.
  4. Juice lemons. Stir lemon juice into pudding mixture until fully incorporated.
  5. Separate eggs, placing the yokes into the lemon mixture and whites into a separate bowl. Mix or whisk egg yokes into the lemon mixture. Beat egg whites with electric mixer until stiff peaks form.
  6. Fold egg whites into lemon mixture. When fully incorporated, fill pie crust with lemon mixture. Chill if desired.

Happy Cooking. May patience reign.




  1. I like your spunky style of writing and loved this post. I have much to learn in being grateful for mine. I too had a in law dinner today and recipe experience when was asked which recipes in the recipe box they had given us for our wedding three years ago I had made. I was glad I had tried a few and glad I hadn’t stashed it somewhere unknown when called upon to give an accounting.

    • Thanks for checking out this post! It seems to be a favorite. SO glad you had some recipe fuel for that conversation! Can’t in-laws be intimidating? I also poked around your blog and really like what you are doing over there!

  2. I love your positivity, realism, and looking for the best in your in-laws! They aren’t always as easy as pie! I couldn’t resist….

  3. I had to laugh at this bc I’ve baked professionally and it is hard to sit back and let someone try their hand at something. Your grandmom-in-law sounds like an interesting character. How did the pie come out?

  4. Pingback: The Liebster Award | Bravejuice

  5. Cooking with in-laws sounds like a delicate balancing act. You want to show you have enough competency in the kitchen (“My poor son is going to starve with this woman as his wife!”)…but show too much skill and you might usurp Mum & Grandma as your husband’s favourite woman! 😉
    Here’s to many more happy festive seasons with your new family.

  6. Great post and I’m ready to try this recipe as I love anything with lemon and desserts reign supreme with that. I have one question… how does one fork a pie? This is an honest question I see it in the directions but that part is a bit lost with me. I have dear friend in Mississippi, I tried his Real Southern Red Velvet Cake recipe. It was amazing!

    • Haha, of course I knew nothing about it before this experience either. The crust, before it is baked, needs to be poked with a fork to release air that gets trapped between the crust and pan. In this instance, more is better. Fork the whole thing, even up the sides.

  7. The great challenge at my family’s Thanksgiving is getting Grandma to allow us to help. It takes some maneuvering and ninja skills. Glad to see you had a chance to bond with your in-laws.

  8. Lovely post – and the pie sounds amazing! I’m dreaming about a slice right now served up with a tall, icy glass of raw milk! 😀

  9. Jane, I love this story! What a clever way to tell a story, share a recipe, and capture what the holidays are truly about: togetherness. I look forward to much more.

  10. Lovely post. I came here via Truth and Cake. For my wedding high-tea, my mother-in-law-to-be made me a recipe book, and in it she collected recipes from all the women in my fiance’s family. Aunts, grandmothers, cousins and of course, herself. These recipes have become my favourites and every time I make them, I think of my mother-in-law and the women of my (now ex-) husband’s family. It’s a lovely thing to have and do. Your descriptions of family are beautiful and spot on!

  11. Hehe, cute story! It’s always delicate to deal with in-laws, and when you mix it with food, it can be a recipe for disaster. But apparently you managed to keep calm and made it- well-done!

    It reminds me of that time I followed my fiancé’s mum recipe to cook a carrot cake for his birthday… It’s not that i want to advertise my stuff here; it really is a closely related post 🙂

  12. Allan G. Smorra

    Jane, I really enjoyed this post. We don’t get to pick our family, but we can learn to love ’em anyway. Thanks for your refreshing look at a Family Holiday.

  13. Great post! I love your writing style! 🙂

    Have you ever considered writing a novel?

  14. Brilliant in many ways for me. I was lead here by the Truth and Cake “freshly pressed” community exercise. What a great idea, no? “but years of scars and tears welt up all ugly and raw and keep them from seeing each other clearly. That’s mostly the nature of family.” This is so the nature of family, I agree with you wholeheartedly. There is an exercise I like to do with my family, especially if I’m feeling annoyed or emotionally tangled – try to see them as if you are seeing them for the first time. Treat them like a stranger (we often pay them more consideration than our family!) The recipe looks great. My new mother-in-law makes an amazing “lemon fluff” and this year I’ll be helping her cook Christmas dinner for the first time. I hope she is as patient with me as your Grandmother was with you. Cheers!

    • That is such a wonderful exercise, it’s a sad truth that we often treat strangers better than the people we love most. I will certainly remember this! Good luck with Christmas dinner, it will probably be an adventure, but of course, a good one.

  15. Jane, I love this post!

    and your blog btw

  16. MJ shaw

    You are so precious! You are learning very quickly the fabric that makes the beautiful quilt that will be your children’s legacy. Hope I might have a square! Love you !


    Send this to S.Living ASAP!!!!!_

    Sent from my HTC smartphone on the Now Network from Sprint!

  18. Beautiful post. You are a sweet person!

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