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“Grandma, Is That You?” (Lemon Icebox Dessert)

Some desserts are so reminiscent of  “the good ol’ days” that they are skipped over when some bakers are skimming through cook books because they’re considered  passé.  They’re the forte of the Aunt Bees and grandmas of the world, not the stylish baker of today. However, I am of the opinion that old things are still wonderful and they were popular in grandma’s day for a  reason:  they were delicious!  If they’re delicious, who cares about “trendy,” am I right?

What's a cake pop, dear?

Case in point:  lemon icebox pie.  If you skim through any old cookbook you may have tucked away in a cabinet or on a shelf, you will inevitably find many versions of this old standby. Each woman had her favorite way to prepare it, and they were likely all delicious. (You never know what you’re going to find in an old cookbook.  I found a recipe recently for “transparent pie.” No kidding. Maybe I’ll make it and show it to you soon.) Some lemon icebox pie recipes used fresh lemons, some reconstituted lemon juice or frozen lemonade, and some even powdered lemon drink mix.  There was no shortage of creativity in these old cookbooks, certainly.

My choice for this, and any lemon dessert I make, is fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I happen to love lemons, don’t you? They’re so bright, pretty and inexpensive.  I love that they release a gorgeous, clean smell into the room when you cut them and squeeze them.  They’re also full of vitamin C, which is a great bonus. They’re perfect.

One of the most fun things about lemons, for me, is how much my oldest son, Justin, has always loved them.  When he was still a baby he would reach for the lemon in my glass of water every time we ate dinner out.  His little fat hand would open and close, open and close, reaching for my water glass to try to get to the lemon.  I’d give in, give him the lemon slice, and he’d take it out of my palm and put it up to his sweet little mouth. As soon as he nibbled on it a  little bit and the lemon juice squirted into his mouth, his back would stiffen, his face would scrunch up, and he’d shake his little head and jerk a little.  Then he’d go in for more!  I’ve never seen a baby like lemons so much.

Now, at 18, he still loves lemons!  Every time I make a lemon dessert he slips into the kitchen to see if there are any spare lemon halves for him to squeeze into his mouth.  So cute.

Since lemons are so popular at my house, I thought I’d make this simple dessert, an homage to grandma’s lemon icebox pie.  It’s easier than making a real pie, though, which may encourage you to try it soon! Sometimes fussing with pie crusts puts us off, doesn’t it?  We’re not going there with this dessert.

Just know, going in, that the pudding part of this dessert puts any boxed lemon pudding to shame.  There is sort of a dull lemon taste to boxed pudding, when there should be a bright, tart taste. This lemon pudding is exactly that: bright, tart, and completely delicious. Go all out and make this from scratch; you won’t be sorry. If you stopped right after making the pudding and ate it instead of  continuing to assemble the dessert, I would not blame you.  It’s that good.

Here’s the recipe:

Lemon Icebox Dessert

  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup plus 2 tsp. sugar
  • 4 tablespoons plus 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 4 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
  • 24 graham crackers
  • 1 cup heavy cream
1. In a small saucepan, whisk together yolks, 1 cup sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest and salt. Gradually whisk in milk until smooth. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in lemon juice. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Cover with plastic (pressing directly onto surface of custard to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate until cool, about 30 minutes.
2. Line bottom of an 8 or 9″ square baking dish with about 12 graham crackers (break into pieces to fill space, if necessary). Spoon 1/2 of pudding over graham crackers, spreading into an even layer. Repeat with remaining  graham crackers and rest of pudding. Cover; refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
3. Just before serving, whip cream with remaining 2 tsp. sugar until it holds stiff peaks. Spread whipped cream in a thin layer over top of dessert. Chill (if you can resist eating it now!)  Cut into squares and serve.
(based on a recipe found at MyRecipes.com)
Give in.
Enjoy!
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8 thoughts on ““Grandma, Is That You?” (Lemon Icebox Dessert)

  1. Oh my goodness gracious sakes alive!!! That’s what my grandmother used to say all the time. MamaSteph, I wish I could write you a letter about this post. I totally agree with so many things you wrote: the old cookbooks (wish I had this one!), your praise of lemons :)) and your comment, “…I am of the opinion that old things are still wonderful and they were popular in grandma’s day for a reason: they were delicious! If they’re delicious, who cares about “trendy,” am I right?” Amen! Yes, you’re right!
    My grandmother loved lemons too! Her favorite lemon desserts were HER mother’s Lemon Pudding (cake forms on top with luscious lemon pudding underneath), Lemon Meringue Pie, and later in her life Angel Lemon Pudding, which uses a store-bought angel food cake. Since she made a fabulous angel food cake, she always thought she was cheating when she made this dessert. Wondef what she’d have to say these days about all those gals out there who think they’re baking “from scratch” when they use a cake mix or frozen pie crust… Thanks for this lovely post!

  2. Thank you for your kind comment, Michele! I think we are kindred spirits. 🙂 Your last statement reminded me of this quote:

    “You can say this for ready-mixes – the next generation isn’t going to have any trouble making pies exactly like mother used to make.” ~Earl Wilson

    It’s too bad, really. Anyway, I’d love to have that recipe for her lemon pudding with the cake forming on top of the pudding…is it on labellecuisine.com?

  3. Mmmm I made this at school from an old war time cook book but we called it lemon chiffon pie! And used digestives instead of Grahams !!!

  4. lemon anything is my very favorite, if you don’t count my sister-in-law’s apple pie that she makes especially for me. in which she uses LOTS of lemon juice – it is so tart no one else will eat it. 🙂 that’s how much she loves me.

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