Divorce, Co-parenting, and Lemon Meringue Pie

I owe my friend Wendy a lemon meringue pie recipe because she and lemon meringue pie have two critical things in common: firstly, her husband (rightly) loves lemon meringue pie. Secondly, sometimes lemon meringue pie is runny. But there the similarity ends because Wendy doing Ragnar  Relays is admirable and inspirational, whereas runny lemon meringue pie is sad and a little destructive to the soul. I’ll share my anti-gloop tips when I elaborate on the recipe.

I reconnected with Wendy when we both found ourselves divorced from our first husbands. She also found herself an Earl and is now blissfully remarried to a very nice young man of English descent with excellent taste in both pie and women. Moving on to find such happiness isn’t always easy though, as finding a person who loves you and not only accepts you as you are but also adapts to how you’ll grow is difficult enough the first time around. Divorce may not have the same stigma that it did decades ago, but it sometimes still carries the idea of failure, of being broken goods. Meeting someone who doesn’t see it that way can be tough. I got ridiculously lucky finding Earl (who, by the way, has started a snazzy new blog of his own). But if I’ve learned anything from getting and being divorced, and being among divorced people, it’s that when the relationship has gotten unhealthy, it’s much harder to be more introspective and fix your own shit than it is to fixate on what your spouse has done. After a lot of thinking and rebuilding, my divorce made me a better partner to Earl.

You will most likely never catch me talking shit about X, at least in public. This is partly because trashing someone publicly is distasteful to begin with, but also because we’ve both reached a place where we’ve recognized our own failures in the marriage, and by doing so it’s much easier to let go of the bitterness. We’ve also both respectively figured out what it takes for us to be happy – we were both very unhappy while married – and one of our shared goals is making sure that Clarice and Dr. Lecter are raised in a happy, healthy environment devoid of any toxicity stemming from their parents’ relationship. I’ve had numerous people comment that they don’t comprehend how well X and I get along, or how amazed they are at how friendly we’re able to stay. It’s actually pretty straightforward. We abide by the following guidelines:

  1. Don’t be a dick.
  2. Don’t undermine the other parent.
  3. Don’t be selfish, especially where the children are concerned.
  4. Don’t be a dick.
  5. Don’t be a dick.

It took a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a lot of forgiveness, but we are now at the point where we celebrate holidays together and have family dinners weekly. I even have really pleasant dinners with X’s mother fairly often and still consider her one of the greatest mothers-in-law in existence as well as an amazing grandmother to Clarice and Dr. Lecter.

I’m not convinced this would work for all divorcing parents. Some dicks are irretrievably dicks and have no compunctions selfishly using their own children as pawns to fuck with their exes. And sometimes people just can’t see past their own pain and want everyone else to feel it too. But it did work for us, and I’m both pleased and proud that it did, because watching my girls play happily, building Lego houses for the animals so the Lego humans can be their servants, tells me that all that work was worth it. We were able to commit to keeping the kids’ lives as free of turbulence as possible and turn our broken family of children and miserable married parents into a stronger family of children and happy divorced parents.

It’s a little like when you separate 4 yolks from 4 egg whites and the yolks get incorporated (winkwink) with lemon which may or may not be named Earl, and the egg whites get turned into a fluffier yet more stable meringue, and they’re all put together to make one tasty lemon meringue pie, the sum of which is better than some other lemon pie made from the eggs had they been beaten together.

I mean, you had to know an awkward pie metaphor was coming right? Plus I still owe Wendy that recipe.

This is the recipe from the Ken Haedrich Pieble. It differs from many other recipes by fully pre-baking the pie shell, cooking the custard on the stove, and then pouring the filling into the baked shell. I firmly believe in this method (get it? firmly??) because the consistency of the custard is easier to gauge on the stove than in the oven, which means you’re less likely to overcook it. If you overcook it, the cornstarch starts to break down and you get sad runny pie. It also incorporates the lemon juice before boiling, which may dilute some of the lemon punch but also ensures that the custard stays firm.

1 ½ cups (337.5 g) granulated sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (48 g) cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon (.71125 g) salt
2 cups (473 mL) water
½ cup (118 mL) lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest (just zest 1 lemon)
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (28.35 g), cut into ½-inch pieces

4 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon (.845 g) cream of tartar
pinch of salt
½ cup (~100 g) superfine sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) vanilla extract

1. Fully pre-bake the pie crust.
2. In a non-stick saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. This will kick up the cornstarch into a poofy cloud of particulates, so make sure you dust your face afterwards.
3. Add the water, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Add the egg yolks, whisking the mixture well.
4. Place over medium heat and cook, while whisking, until the mixture comes to a boil, about 5-7 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly and cook (keep whisking) for another 1-2 minutes (it’ll be quite thickened).
5. Remove from the heat and whisk in butter, one piece at a time. Pour the filling into the pie crust. Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the filling. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature and then refrigerate for up to 1 day.
6. Just before serving, move the oven rack to the lower third position, preheat the broiler, and make the meringue. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the cream of tartar and salt. Gradually add the sugar, 1 tablespoon (12 grams) at a time until the whites are thick and glossy, but not dry. Add the vanilla and beat briefly.
7. Mound the meringue over the filling, spreading it so it is domed in the center and anchored to the crust.

Place the pie under the broiler and brown the meringue. It won’t take more than 30 seconds, so don’t walk and definitely do not let your kids distract you or else it won’t toast so much as it will blacken.

Serve the pie right away. Or, tent loosely with aluminum foil and refrigerate until ready to serve. On the other hand, if you don’t wait for it to fully cool, the pie jiggles pleasantly. Like a boob.


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