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?
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