North Carolina Lemon Pie

My son, James, came up to Fort Lauderdale this past weekend and spent Sunday, Father’s Day, with us.  We see him at least once a month and although we text and speak all the time during the week, my boy and I always get excited when we first see each other.  Between joyous hugs we laugh and smile at each other as though sharing a secret.  It’s no secret at my end how crazy I am about that boy and not only that, I like him… a lot.  He went to school at UNC Chapel Hill and Jimmy and I visited him at least twice every year.  I felt the same way right as our plane taxied down the runway  and we made our way through the airport.  After picking up a rental car, we’d drive to the hotel where we’d be staying that weekend, check in and relax in the room for a bit.  Following the obligatory nap, Jimmy and I cleaned ourselves up and headed out.  This was the moment I had been looking forward to for weeks.  Anticipating the heady elation of our sweet reunion and then… there he was.  Right in front of me.  My boy.  My boy!  And the smiles.  Oh, my goodness!  We three elatedly shot each other huge smiles and all were wrapped in warm, bear hugs.  James hollered, “Mama!” while I yelled back, “Boysie!”.  I wallowed in the happiness.  Our Chapel Hill visits were a fine of concoction of education and pleasure.  Mornings were spent walking on campus with James as our guide pointing out a hidden garden or the style of architecture on his favorite building.  After a fabulous lunch with Boy as our culinary guide there was the invariably necessary trip to Target.  Strolling down Franklin Street meant drinks, ducking into cunning and not so cunning shops for a lovely trinket or two and ending the afternoon with more drinks.  We spent evenings at basketball games and savored dinner at some of the best restaurants on the east coast.   There was always a party at the fraternity house, open bar of course.  Y’all, I have to confess, I might have kinda gotten a little crazy at some of those parties.  The parties started late and I had become a light weight.  I can’t drink like I used to and I sure can’t stay up past, what… 10:00?   SMH.  One cocktail party during a Parent’s Weekend began at 11:00p.m.  11 o’clock!  That’s not a cocktail party.  No!  Cocktail hour and and cocktail parties start around 5:00 in the afternoon.  And that, my friends, explains why I was already lit when we arrived at the house. Oh Lord.  The formal room had been cleared of all furniture which then gave plenty of room for the band and a dance floor.  The music was fabulous and something told me I knew this band.  I screamed when I heard the lyrics, “Nuts! Hot nuts! Ya gettem from the peanut man.  Nuts!  Hot nuts!  Ya gettem anywhere you can.”  Y’all, it was Doug Clark & the Hot Nuts playing for us, renown up and down the east coast, this band played at parties for sororities, fraternities, congressmen and senators.   I heard them play at some party somewhere during my college years in Macon and remember having had some big fun, not only laughing at their racy lyrics but the Hot Nuts were a great band playing only the best dance music.  I was in drunk-mom heaven.  I slammed my drink back, James grabbed my hand and we hit the dance floor.  Oh, but did we have fun!  We danced and danced and then, I don’t know what happened because you never do when you’ve had too much to drink, but all of a sudden James caught hold of my elbow and, steering me out the front door of the fraternity house, said to me, “Okay, Mama.  Let’s go.  Time to go home. C’mon.  Party’s over.”  Y’all, I was having such a good time, I wasn’t ready to leave but then the idea of a cool, fluffy bed, dressed in all-white sheets called to me also.  You know, you always think, or maybe it’s believe, that when you make a fool of yourself no one sees… nobody is aware of your blunder or small accident.  Child, don’t kid yourself.  The following morning, back at the house and between waves of nausea, gulps of a very strong bloody Mary and mouthfuls of North Carolina style ‘Q, I asked James why we had to leave the party so suddenly the previous night.  With a big grin on his face he replied, ” Well, Mama.  When I saw you dancing by yourself in the corner I knew it was time.  And, on the way to the car, when I saw you trip over a parking bumper and almost eat asphalt, then I REALLY knew.  It’s okay, Mama.  Nobody saw!”  Ugh.  How I hate humiliation and embarrassment.  But now, years later, I smile and look back on that night as a great evening spent with my favorite boy, meeting his friends and constantly exchanging that “we done good” looks with my husband.  We’ve all grown since James’ college days.  A few ups, a few downs, but all in all, we are blessed.  So blessed.

This is one of the easiest most delicious pies you’ll ever make!  All the ingredients are pantry staples making this your go-to pie.  We shared a piece at one of our favorite restaurants in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, by the name of Crook’s Corner.  Famous throughout the south, the restaurant prepares some of the best shrimp and grits ever as well as this lemon pie.  Just sayin’.  This pie is a North Carolinian coastal classic.  It was originally finished with high peaked meringue but, like its cousin Key Lime Pie, is now typically found topped with cold, sweetened whipped cream.  And how about the crust? It can be prepared with saltine crackers or Ritz-style butter crackers but either way, the cracker yields the perfect salty-sweet ratio.  I have to admit, the cracker crust in these photos should have been processed a little longer.  It still was delicious and held its shape nicely.  You don’t want crumbs; they would be too fine.  I think the ideal size of the crackers pieces should be about the size of confetti.  You don’t have to wait for the crust to cool before pouring the filling into the pie shell but the pie should be thoroughly chilled before you cut into it.  It’s not a particularly tall pie so it doesn’t take all that long to chill.  Last of all, a few berries scattered over the whipped cream make a perfect final touch.

North Carolina Lemon Pie

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers, 6 ounces
  • 10 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2-3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 level tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
  2. Pulse crackers in food processor until they’re the size of confetti or very coarse crumbs.  Add the melted butter and sugar and pulse until mixed.
  3. Transfer the cracker mixture to a 9-inch pie pan and press evenly into the bottom of the pan and up the sides.  I use a metal measuring cup to press the crumbs and use my hand to press down on the top of the side.
  4. Chill for 10-15 minutes then bake for 18 minutes.
  5. While the crust bakes, combine the condensed milk, egg yolks and lemon zest.  Whisk until fully combined.
  6. Add the lemon juice and whisk to combine.
  7. Remove crust from oven and pour in lemon filling.  Return pie to oven and bake for 15 minutes or the edges are set but the middle still jiggles.  Do not over-bake!
  8. Cool pie completely on a wire cooling rack, transfer to refrigerator and chill at least 4 hours.
  9. When ready to serve, whip cream on low for one minute.  Add vanilla and whip until soft peaks form.  Add confectioner’s sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.  Whipped cream may be spread over entire pie or dolloped over individual slices then serve.
  10. Refrigerate any leftovers.



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