I don’t know about anyone else, but I had a positively smashing Beltane full of flower crowns and maypoles and lots of fun with covenmates. I can’t get over how green the world has become over the past week. The grass in the field behind my home is positively verdant and so thick that the Canadian geese that alight in it are practically swallowed whole. The trees that stand just beyond now have full-fledged leaves rather than the wan green mist that had been deepening throughout April. There’s a new hope and optimism in it, and it’s infectious.
For a while, my go-to dessert for a Beltane Feast has been Key Lime Pie–an absolute favorite of mine. It tastes like the start of summer, and gives me the same pleasant feeling as watching the greening of the earth. But my standard recipe for that is straight off the back of a “Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Juice” bottle, and I typically use a store bought crust for it–and frankly, I wanted to do something a bit more special for a holiday.
Recently, Katie Workman’s 2013 write up of Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie has made the rounds on my social media, and I’ve given it a try. It’s a lovely pie–very much like my favorite Key Lime–and the saltiness of the crust is a nice touch. But I thought Workman’s description of “Oh My God” pie was a bit of a stretch. The crust crumbled if you looked at it wonky, and I thought the filling was too acidic and competed too much with the crust. Last year Cook’s Country came out with a similar recipe, North Carolina Lemon Pie, and that was what I chose to use for my Beltane dessert. The extra pinch of salt, extra butter, and addition of corn syrup to the crust makes it far more manageable and delicious. Adding lemon zest to the filling gives nice textural contrast and more lemon flavor, and adding 1/4 cup of heavy cream cuts down the acidity and makes the filling even more luscious. I did, however, omit the vanilla extract in the whipped cream topping–there’s nothing better than barely sweetened whipped cream!
North Carolina Lemon Pie
For the Crust:
6 ounces Saltine crackers (about 1-1 1/2 sleeves)
1/8 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup light corn syrup
For the Filling:
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup juice (about 3 lemons)
1/4 cup heavy cream
For the Topping:
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 teaspoons sugar
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Add the saltines and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have coarse crumbs (about 15 pulses). Add the melted butter and corn syrup and pulse until the crumbs are about the size of oatmeal (another 15 pulses).
Add the cracker mixture to a greased 9-inch pie plate. Use the bottom of a dry measuring cup or glass and press the crumbs into an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake until light golden brown, 17 to 19 minutes.
To make the filling, whisk the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, cream (if using), and lemon zest together in a bowl, add the lemon juice and whisk until well combined.
With the pie plate on the baking sheet still, remove it from the oven and pour in the filling (the crust does not need to be cooled) and place it back in the hot oven. Bake until the edges of the pie are set but the center still jiggles, 15 to 17 minutes. Place the pie on a wire rack and let it cool completely. Refrigerate the pie until completely chilled.
For the topping, use a stand mixer fitted with a whisk and whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla on medium low until foamy (about a minute). Increase the mixer speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Spread the whipped cream over the top of the pie and serve cold.