The citrus was a gift from my dear pal Mary, and it is by no means an ordinary slice-of-lemon-in-your-tea-lemon. Traveling all the way from Savannah, Georgia’s Skidaway Island, as Meyer lemons go, this southern belle could be mistaken for a grapefruit. She’s a curvy girl, wearing a hoop skirt of sun-kissed yellow and practically capable of filling a pie plate single-handedly. She lends herself to being sliced into thin ribbons for a Shaker lemon pie, but I haven’t the heart to do so; not yet. Instead, I choose a few plebian Meyer lemons from the Trader Joes mesh bag, wash them and send them through the feed tube of the Cuisinart where they meet their fate. From the other side of the kitchen counter, Mary’s Meyer lemon holds its breath. I will be the first to admit that my attachment to seasonal fruit borders on the unnatural.
Fruit pickings are slim in mid-January, making it a trying time for a pie girl. Apples are available but lackluster, their taste a hybrid of wax fruit and the dark recesses of cold storage. Although the audience for classic apple pie never falters, I am certain winter apple pie variations are just within reach. My cookbook shelf is an arm’s length away.
I turn to the all-knowing Mrs. Beeton of Mrs. Beeton’s All About Cookery, published in 1901. Mrs. Beeton’s original Book of Household Management was published in 1861, a comprehensive guide to all aspects of running a household in Victorian Britain. Blissfully, my household is managed more casually, allowing me to skim over sections of the book dedicated to helpful hints for my footman, valet, or lady’s maid. Mrs. Beeton arranged her collection of ‘practical recipes’ in alphabetical order, a refreshing change from today’s seasonally mandated cookbooks. Thanks to the generosity of Rommy’s lovely friend Ann Brown, I have a copy of Mrs Beeton’s New Edition, which has been ‘enlarged, revised, and thoroughly brought up to date.’
Thumbing past adverts, almonds, and anchovies, I land smack dab in the middle of apples. Mrs. Beeton emphatically states on page 9 that ‘apples become flavourless after February,’ reminding me to add a little lemon peel and juice to the mix. Two hundred papes later, I stumble across an intriguing recipe for Lemon Mincemeat. The recipe’s inclusion of suet gives me pause, but I like the idea of apples and lemon sharing space within two circles of pate brisée. Although Mrs. Beeton advises me to get cracking on this recipe in the beginning of December, clearly that mince ship has sailed. I tuck this little bit of cookery knowledge away, earmarking it for a home baking project.
I couldn’t bear the thought of sending Mary’s Meyer lemon through the Krups juicer, tossing the remains of her beautiful yellow skirt into the trash. It was hard enough saying good-by before slicing it paper-thin and cooking it down á la Shaker lemon pie filling. The bountiful lemon provided a generous amount of curd, rind and all. The two discs of pie dough in the fridge stopped glaring at me once I rolled them out and cut them into 3” circles. As a nod to Mrs. Beeton, I tossed a few finely diced apples into the mix. Four hand pies and two cups of coffee later, I felt my exhaustive recipe testing was complete.
The Apple Galette with Meyer Lemon made a quiet debut at the bakery on Thursday.
There’s nothing glamorous about the open faced, rustic tart; just a circle of apple slices and a generous dollop of lemon curd, with nary a whisper of suet in the crust. It is not the sort of thing one would serve alongside glasses of sweet tea on Savannah’s Skidaway Island. Nor would it necessarily be welcome as part of Afternoon Tea service in a Victorian household. It does seem inevitable, however, that sleepy mid-winter apples snoozing in the walk-in and limited edition Meyer lemons are destined to cross paths. I am only following Mrs. Beeton’s advice to usher the fruit into a ‘brisk oven, but not too hot, but not too slack, or the paste (pastry) will be saddened and will not rise nor will it have any colour.’ We will have no slack oven temperatures and no saddened pastes on my watch, Mrs. Beeton. Perish the thought.