Lemons and summer go together, so I stopped by The Cupboard to try a slice of their lemon ice box pie, which was highly recommended by a friend.
I usually think of The Cupboard as a very busy, bustling place with lots of people eating and lots of servers running around. That's because I usually eat there at lunchtime or dinnertime. This week, I was at The Cupboard at 4 p.m. Only six or so customers were there. It was about to rain outside. A recording of "Volare" played in the background.
After I tasted the pie brought by server Evelyn Ferrell and I took a sip of coffee, I was in heaven. It's the best lemon ice box pie I've ever eaten. The lemon doesn't overpower the rest of the ingredients; everything blends perfectly.
Jeremy Cavallo, The Cupboard co-owner, said the lemon ice box pie is one of their most popular pies.
Co-owner Charles Cavallo said the secret is the lemon juice, which is squeezed from fresh lemons. "We use the real deal," he said.
Eather Mays, longtime cook at The Cupboard, makes the lemon ice box from a recipe she brought to the restaurant.
The day after I ordered my pie, I returned to the restaurant to talk to Mays. When I walked back to the kitchen, Mays had all the ingredients set up and was ready to show me how to make the pie.
To make nine pies, she uses one gallon of Eagle Brand ("Others don't work as good," she said) sweetened condensed milk, 30 squeezed lemons (which makes 16 ounces of juice) and 18 egg yolks.
She added the yolks to the milk. "I stir them up in there real good," she said as she wielded a large whisk. She didn't add any lemon juice at that point because she didn't want the mixture to curdle. Then she slowly added the lemon juice, folding it into the mixture with her whisk. "Pour it in a little bit at a time."
She turned the liquid with the whisk until the mixture got thick. "It gives lemon juice time to cook the eggs. That lemon juice cooks the eggs. I don't know (how), but it does."
When it was thick, she poured the mixture into commercial graham cracker crusts, put the pies in the freezer for 24 hours.
Whipped cream is spooned onto each slice in little peaks after the slice is cut from the pie, Jeremy Cavallo said.
When I asked Mays where she got her recipe, she said, "Miss Rosie Sanders." Sanders was a cook at the old restaurant called The Claybrook, which was on Claybrook next to the Methodist Central hospital.
I had to ask what her secret was to making such a great lemon ice box pie. "Remember never to put too many eggs," she said. The mixture will "never get stiff. Two eggs to a pie."
The Cupboard Restaurant is at 1400 Union; (901) 276-8015.
Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797; firstname.lastname@example.org.