A Real Southern Woman’s Lemon Ice Box Pie

Editor’s note: this post marks a momentous occasion here on RSM: our first guest post from a Real Southern Woman. Deborah Krauss is a Tuscaloosa girl who knocked around the country in the ad game before settling along the sugar white sands of the Gulf Coast in Panama City, Florida. She’s been a loyal RSM reader since Day One, but be warned: she ain’t right.

by Deborah Krauss

Lemon ice box pie at home in Owensboro, Kentuc...

Lemon Ice Box Pie, minus Deborah's Mamaw's meringue. (Image by A Culinary (Photo) Journal via Flickr)

My family is small-town Southern – as opposed to country Southern. My Daddy’s daddy (FYI: Southern women always call their daddies “Daddy” regardless of their age) was a sheriff’s deputy, and my Mama’s daddy worked on the railroad.

My grandmothers both ruled kitchens which produced prodigious amounts of cornbread, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and green beans cooked all day with bacon. However, Rosie Mae, Mama’s mama, was a talented woman who had honed her skills in the kitchen at Miss Melissa’s Diner in Moundville, Alabama.

Mamaw* Rosie Mae could make buttermilk biscuits so fluffy St. Peter would want to rest on them. She could fry up enough fried chicken for my mother and her three siblings, their spouses and all the grandkids too … and it would all be hot and none of it would be greasy. (Try that sometime, I dare you)

And then there was her lemon ice box pie.

I grew up hearing those words spoken in one breath, and for years, that’s what I thought I heard: “limmoneissbox” pie. I had no idea what a “limmoneissbox” was, and in the unquestioning acceptance of childhood, never asked. I was an adult before I realized it was three separate words; in fact, before I learned what in tarnation an “ice box” was.

Now, I was a picky child. I grew up on peanut butter and macaroni and Flintstone’s Chewable Vitamins. If it didn’t look like cake, particularly with lots of frosting, I wasn’t interested.

It wasn’t until I was old enough to know better that I finally took a fork to a slice of my Mamaw’s lemonicebox pie. The fluffy meringue was easily half the total depth of the dessert, if not more; the crust still bore the imprints of Rosie’s thumb. The translucent yellow of the filling looked like a lemon had fallen in love with Jello and gotten busy.

The first bite was a shock — a frosting girl, I didn’t expect the effervescent way the meringue dissolved on my tongue. And the filling was tart enough to make me produce that universal “Ooo, that’s tart!” sound with my tongue.

(Admit it, you just did the same thing.)

This was a revelation in my history with desserts. This wasn’t chocolate. It didn’t have any frosting on it, anywhere. But man, it was gooood.

Now that I’m older, and attempting to replicate the food I grew up with, I understand and appreciate the skills required to put bacon, eggs and biscuits on the table, all at the same time, and all of it hot. The experience required to frost a layer cake so that there’s a perfect line of frosting between the layers, and the patience required to cook black-eyed peas slap to death. And of course, the sheer muscle power and determination to beat the hell out of egg whites and sugar until they form stiff peaks … by hand, with a wire whisk. Like everything else Mamaw put on the table, her lemon ice box pie was a labor of love.

I just never realized how much.

*I married a West Virginia Yankee the first time around, and while we were dating, he called the house looking for me, and my mama told him I was at my Mamaw’s. “Okay,” he said. “What’s a mamaw?”

To vote for Lemon Ice Box Pie in the Southern Sweets Showdown, visit our Facebook page or vote right here on the site.

And check out Emeril Lagasse’s lemon ice box pie recipe to get you started on making your own.

7 Responses to “A Real Southern Woman’s Lemon Ice Box Pie”

  1. You’re bringing back some memories of my Nannie’s house! Some of my favorite times were eating a real meal on the picnic table out back, with the whole extended family, after church on a Sunday afternoon. And when I say real meal, it’s exactly what you said – fried chicken and green beans cooked all day long with hunks of pork and onions. Oftentimes that chicken had been running around the back yard in the morning. Oh, and the dumplins…mmmm-mm.

    Pie was a featured dessert at her house, too, but my favorite was and probably always will be chocolate. But you’re right – I did make that tart sound with my tongue and I can almost taste that limoneissbox pie right now.

  2. Not sure why Emeril’s pie is considered a Southern limoneissbox pie… it doesn’t even have egg yolks in it! Here is a recipe for the real thing (although Rosie always put hers in a pie crust, not a graham cracker crust, that I recall), plus a nice memory of a pie, an enamel kitchen table, and her granddaddy:

    Happy pie, y’all!


  1. Our Token Woman Takes on the Sweets Showdown | Real Southern Men - December 9, 2011

    […] Cobbler is probably the one I’m most familiar with. While not a fan of fruit pies (see my Lemon Ice Box review—I’m a cake girl), it is still part of a Southern girl’s education to recognize one on sight […]

  2. The Peaches are Cream and the Coke’s in the Oven | Real Southern Men - December 12, 2011

    […] #13 Coca-Cola Cake is exactly what it sounds like… a cake made with Coke, frosted with icing made with Coke. And if that doesn’t pretty much define Southern goodness for you, well, I got no help for you. In a region where people ask if you want a Coke, then ask you what kind, a chocolate Coca-Cola Cake is the perfect combination of sweet baked goodness and tradition. Something about the effervescent Coke makes the cake itself fluffy and tender, and when layered with chocolatey Coke-flavored frosting, there’s nothing better. Given an uninterrupted hour and a fork, I can eat the whole blasted thing do some serious damage to a double-layer chocolate Coke cake. Hey, I told you, I’m a cake girl. […]

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