Except for the no-sex and separation-from-the-world rules (pretty hard to overlook), I admire most everything I’ve read about Shakers. Progressive thinkers who supported full equality for men, women and all races, Shakers embraced technological advancements, were amazing architects and craftspeople and made a not for the faint-of-heart lemon pie.
Too bad some Shaker community cooks didn’t think to write their recipes down. At least, the Shakers at Pleasant Hill, KY, didn’t. “It is kind of curious, says David Larson, vice president of operations at what is now called Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, where the last Shaker died in 1923. “They left behind so many journals detailing so much of their lives, but did not write about what they ate.” Larson, who grew up just down the road from the village, spent 35 years as a chef before taking the VP ops position here. Today part historic preserve, part hotel and restaurant, Shaker Hill still maintains the original prolific vegetable gardens on the property, and operates a restaurant that serves the produce fashioned into recipes gleaned from Shaker communities around the country that did write recipes down.
Among them, this pie is best known. The original recipe, says Larson, has been served every day at Shaker Village since the place opened in 1967. Since lemons were historically a seasonal, hard-to-come-by treat, Larson figures the pie was formulated after railroads started toting them in the 1850s. Utilizing the entire lemon and made to a simple 2-4-2 (lemons/eggs/sugar) ratio, the pie is a good illustration of Shaker waste-nothing mentality. But be forewarned: because it includes both the zest and pith of the fruit, the original recipe is very tart with marmalade-esque undertones: you’ve really gotta love lemons to love it. For anybody a little wussier about the rind? I’ve included my own updated version that includes lemon zest, but removes the rind, pith and seeds, resulting in what tastes a lot like a two-crust lemon-curd pie (but lemon curd is made with a lot of butter–this filling is just eggs, lemon and sugar.) Let me know what you think!
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp pure cane sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup very cold vegetable shortening or lard
- 1/2 cup very cold unsalted butter
- 5 Tbsp ice cold cream OR 1/2 and 1/2 OR canned evaporated milk OR whole milk
- 2 large lemons, washed and unpeeled
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 large lemons OR six small ones
- grated zest of 2 large lemons (to make at least 1 Tbsp of zest
- 4 large eggs
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- Make crust by sifting flour, sugar and salt together. Using two knives, cut the shortening and then the butter into the flour mixture. Lightly pinch any little lumps into the flour with your fingertips, until the entire mixture is like wet sand. Don't overhandle. Sprinkle the cold cream over 1 Tbsp at a time, lightly mixing in with a fork. Continue adding the cold cream in small amounts until when squeezed, the dough holds together. Place two sheets of plastic wrap on counter. Dump pie dough onto plastic; pulling up the four corners of the plastic, gather up into a ball. Divide ball into two halves; flatten each half into a disk. Wrap each disk of pie dough in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 1/2 hour.
- When well chilled, remove one portion of the dough from the refrigerator. Spread counter with two sheets of plastic wrap. Place disk of dough in the center of the wrap; cover with two more sheets of plastic. Using a rolling pin and firm strokes, flatten and spread the disk until large enough to fit into a 9-inch pie plate with about a 1 inch overhang. Remove the top sheets of plastic; invert the flattened pie dough over the pie plate, Ease into the plate and remove the remaining sheets of plastic. Fold the top edge of the pie crust under. Fill with your choice of ONE of the pie filling options (original Shaker Lemon, OR, Updated Shaker Lemon).
- Preheat oven to 400. Repeat the flattening and rolling process with the remaining disk of dough; Carefully top the pie with the second crust. Tuck the top crust into the bottom crust around the edges, and crimp around the edge to seal. Cut slits in the top crust. Sprinkle with coarse sugar (turbinado OR sanding sugar.) Place pie in center of oven and bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375. Continue baking for 30 minutes or until knife inserted near the edge of the pie comes out clean. Cool before serving.
- Make Filling for Original Recipe Shaker Lemon Pie (OR Updated Filling, below)
- Using a very sharp mandolin slicer (careful! wear gloves if it helps to remind you how sharp these slicers are)
- Slice washed lemons in paper thin slices.
- In a large, non-reactive bowl, toss lemon slices with sugar. Pick out any visible lemon seeds
- Let the lemon slices macerate (sit) in the sugar for as little as 4 and up to 24 hours--the longer the better. Stir occasionally.
- Whip eggs until light yellow; combine with sugared lemon slices.
- Wash and dry lemons. Using a microplane or sharp, fine grater, grate zest from two of the lemons into a small dish. You should have at least 1 Tbsp of zest. Peel the lemons and discard the peel and pith. Chop lemon flesh, being careful to keep the juice. Remove as many visible seeds as possible. Stir lemon juice and flesh with 2 1/2 cups sugar and reserved grated lemon zest. The mixture will be like damp sand--don't worry: It will become more liquid as it sits for the next several hours. Allow mixture to macerate (sit) for at least four and up to 24 hours (more is better). Using a handheld immersion blender, blend the chopped lemons and sugar, periodically removing any skin and fiber that clumps onto the blender blades. In the workbowl of a standing mixer, whip eggs on high speed until very light yellow and fluffy; combine with the sugared lemon mixture.
- Know that you need two days to do this right: Best flavor results from allowing the lemons (sliced peels, pith and all in the original recipe; peeled and blended in the updated recipe) to macerate (sit and soak) in sugar, for a full 24 hours.