Vinegar pie closely resembles lemon meringue pie. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

It sounds like a prank, making vinegar pie, but you’ll be glad to know there is more of every other ingredient in this pie than vinegar. The main question is, why make vinegar pie?

There are quite a few members of the sugar pie family, sometimes called transparent pies, including raisin, shoefly, chess and hugely favored lemon meringue. And, historically, late in spring in northern climes, when old timers had eaten all the pumpkins and apples, and the rhubarb wasn’t up yet, pie ingredients might be a little sparse. As long as a cook had eggs, sugar, water and flour or cornstarch, pie was possible. Still, the cook needed some flavoring like lemon juice or in the absence of juice, extract. Or vinegar.

Nowadays, no matter the season, we find plentiful lemons at the grocery store and can easily buy lemon juice, as well as extract. We take it for granted. Maybe this year, we might have to reconsider because lots of lemons come from Texas which, as you may have heard, was hit hard with snow and ice last month. Power outages affected not just crops, which froze on the trees, but also packing plants and distribution networks. (Not just citrus but also chard, cabbage, greens and all kinds of seedlings that are usually shipped north.)

I’ll bet we’ll still find lemons at the store in coming months, but they might cost more than usual. Mainly, it got me to wondering about what people did in past times, or whenever times were tough, or heck, when they just needed to substitute for a lemon they didn’t have on hand? In fact, vinegar pie is a kind of coping mechanism. The recipes I used as samples came from “All Maine Cooking” and from a recent Maine Rebekah’s cookbook. A couple others I found had more substantial ingredients like sour cream and brown sugar, and called for flour to thicken and sometimes spices.

Because I didn’t have lemon extract, I used a little lemon juice and some homemade lemon flavoring called lemon brandy. I found that recipe in a cookbook from 1833. It’s mindlessly easy to do. Just put your peels in a jar after you have squeezed out the juice, cover them with plain brandy and let it stand for a month. Drain off the brandy, which will now have a lovely lemon flavor, and discard the peels. It keeps forever. If you have extract, by all means go that route.

This recipe looks just like one for a lemon meringue pie, the filling’s brilliant yellow coming from the yolks. I baked mine in a 9-inch pie shell, but if I had an 8-inch pan, that would’ve been better.

I used a whisk for all my stirring, but only gently. And seriously consider sampling when the filling is cooked to see if it is lemony enough for you, because that is the best time to add more extract if you need to.

You could save this recipe for April Fools’ Day, or you could serve it up wordlessly and just smile beatifically when someone says, “What a delicious lemon meringue pie!”

P.S. You may recall last week, I asked if anyone besides Ruth Thurston ever heard of a hot water chocolate cake going by the name Double Scrub. Well, by golly, a reader sent along a wonderful story about a recipe she has named Double Scrub that came from a church cookbook dated 1937 that she inherited from her grandmother. It was a favorite in her family, and she recounted good memories of her grandmother’s wood cook stove in the kitchen where she learned to make molasses cookies and pie crust using lard. And then, Marlene Kamas in Monroe recognized the recipe as the same as her “Annette’s Chocolate Cake,” another family favorite. She sprinkles the top of it with powdered sugar and doesn’t bother frosting it. I am so grateful for the readers who wrote about this quirky and delicious cake.

Vinegar Pie

This vinegar pie gets its bright yellow color from egg yolks. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

Makes one pie

Pastry sufficient for one crust, preferably 8-inch diameter

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vinegar

2 teaspoons lemon extract

1 cup boiling water

2 eggs, separated

4 tablespoons more sugar for meringue

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a pie plate with the pastry, and bake, weighted, for about 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Mix the sugar, cornstarch, vinegar and extract in a small, heavy saucepan, and stirring, add the hot water.

Cook over a medium heat until it comes to a boil, and cook, stirring gently until it’s thick and translucent. Take it off the heat.

Separate the eggs, setting the whites aside for a meringue.

Stir the yolks and add them to the hot sugar and cornstarch mixture, stirring to combine them. Set aside.

Beat the whites until they are nearly stiff, then gradually add 4 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Pour the filling into the pie shell and top it with the meringue.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the meringue has turned golden.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...