By Sara Gibbs
When we started discussing ideas for desserts at Honeywood, I began pulling volumes from the cookbook collection that towers over my desk in my home office. My collection is vast, so searching through piles of books for possibilities took quite some time, but nothing seemed quite right. Next I turned to the internet and spent hours reviewing pies with bourbon and without, pies with streusel toppings, pies with lattice crust, shortbread crust and graham cracker crust. Nothing seemed quite right.
Eventually I turned to a cookbook that my mother compiled for me in the 1970s on a manual typewriter before I left for college one year. I was moving into a house with three roommates. We all would call her when it was our turn to cook and ask her to give us a recipe over the phone long distance, which was pretty expensive in those days. So she got out in front of that by making a cookbook for us. (I stay in touch weekly with these three college roommates, who still cook with her recipes.) The cookbook grew to two treasured volumes, because my mother added recipes from magazines, newspapers and friends, recipes that she tried first, then, with input from my father, determined which were “keepers.” This gift to college girls has become my culinary bible.
In retrospect, that is where I should have started. I found the recipe that seemed to have endless possibilities: Lemon Cake Pie.
My mother, Mabel Lyons Thompson, was not a fan of lemon. Although she tried to provide a homemade dessert every evening, they tasted of chocolate, caramel, toasted coconut and vanilla, or berries, apples and raisins. Occasionally, there was a hint of bourbon. Lemon was at the bottom of the list, unless it was Lemon Cake Pie, one of my father’s favorites. In the spring we ate it with strawberries and in the summer with blueberries, but always with whipped cream. It is light, yet profoundly satisfying and it seems born of culinary magic. One batter poured into a pie crust somehow separates into layers while baking, resulting in a creamy tangy custard on the bottom and a light chiffon cake layer on top.
A quick internet search produces many results for this pastry. Bloggers often mention finding the recipe in their grandmothers’ recipe boxes while one cook reported finding it in an old Sunset cookbook. My mother’s 1956 edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook contains the same formula sans the crust, called Lemon Cake Pudding. Sometime after that, an innovative cook poured that same batter into a pie crust and an even better dessert was born, which was easier to plate and prettier to serve as the perfect ending to any summer meal.
Editor's note: Mabel Lyons Thompson’s influence with Ouita includes Mabel’s Nut Burger, which is on the menu at Windy Corner Market, just north of Lexington off Paris Pike. Sweet and savory peanut sauce and slaw top a Kentucky Proud beef burger, and, man, is it good. — GG
Chef, restaurant veteran, food stylist and cookbook author Sara Gibbs has worked more than seven years with Ouita and Chris Michel as recipe archivist and recipe developer for their restaurant group. Sara has a culinary arts degree from Sullivan University, is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan and has a master’s of library science degree from the University of Maryland. She and her husband, Tom, take care of an 18-acre farm southeast of Louisville.