Sunday, December 5, 2021

Lemon-Beer Pie because why not?

Now that grocery stores across the nation are mercilessly playing aggressively festive music on the PA and decking the displays with several plastic refineries' worth of artificial pine, 'tis the season for beer!

Dinner is Served 1972

I've seen this cookbook page make a few rounds on various articles about weird recipes of yore, but no one has made it that I know of. We had a close call a while ago when it shared a cookbook page with the peanut-and-beer pie Yinzerella made for the Pieathlon. The pie lodged itself in my mind. I had to know.

Lemon-Beer Sponge Pie
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (the recipe doesn't specify a deep-dish pie, but you should)
4 eggs, separated
¾ c sugar
¼ c flour
3 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
2 tsp grated lemon peel
1 (12-oz) can or bottle of beer
2 tbsp lemon juice

Bake the empty pie shell at 450° for 10 minutes. Then reduce oven to 350°.
Put the lemon peel and half of the sugar in a separate bowl, rubbing it between your fingers until the peel releases its oils and makes the sugar yellow with a strong lemon smell. Beat this with the flour, butter, and yolks. Mix in the beer and lemon juice.
Beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually add half the sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold into the rest of the ingredients.
Bake for 50 minutes or until set. Cool to room temperature before serving.

All-Time Favorite Recipes from Culinary Arts Institute, 1981 via Dinner is Served 1972

That recipe note almost seems like an apology: "The beer flavor is subtle." Did some beer company come to the Culinary Arts Institute, commission a book called Sixty Sensational Recipes featuring Orwigsburg Ale, and demand a chapter of desserts? Did this pie happen after the Culinary Arts Institute's beleaguered home economists spent several tear-salted nights in the test kitchen trying to come up with a non-revolting recipe for pink beer cookies?

I sent the recipe to a lot of friends and got a surprisingly mixed response. Herewith is a sample:

Before we got to the beer-related fun, a pie crust had to be made. Here I had my first doubts about the recipe because the instructions got a bit weird: we are instructed to partially bake a pie crust and then immediately get the oven a hundred degrees colder for the pie itself. That seemed like a spectacular waste of energy and also like we'd be hanging out in front of an open oven for a long time waiting for the temperature to come down. In reality, the oven only needed a minute or so to cool down from crust temperature to pie temperature. Nevertheless, my suspicion that no one tested this recipe would persist for the rest of the endeavor.

At least it was a bit chilly out, so dumping all that excess oven heat into the kitchen just added coziness instead of insulting the air conditioner. Also, these days it seems every pie crust I make has a little rip right on the edge of the pan. 

Next, we cut the butter up into little slices and left them in a mixing bowl to soften. Then, eggs had to be separated. As a result, a lot of bowls were populating the countertop at this early stage. Lastly, we got to one of the title ingredients: the lemon. I don't have a zester or a paring knife, but a coffee grinder (that rarely sees coffee) resides in the kitchen.

In just a short time, the lemon peels had dyed the sugar yellow. A wonderful lemony smell happily skipped to my nose when I popped off the grinder lid.

I found a really nice two-part lemon juicer in the back of one of the cabinets, and it did an absolute bang-up job on the lemon. I only needed one lemon to get the requisite two spoons of juice for this recipe. The juicer left both lemon halves nearly dry. I would never have expected that kind of performance from something looks like cheap plastic.

At this point, the recipe looks like a perfectly normal dessert. All we have in our bowl is butter, sugar, and flour. The recipe just has us dumping everything into the bowl all at once, but I feared little lumps of butter and flour floating in an alcoholic egg yolk ooze.  Maybe it would have mixed fine, but I think I would soon have wanted a blender. Again, did anyone actually try to make this recipe using their own instructions before sending it to the typesetters and printers?

I should have stirred the sugar and flour together to dispel any little glutinous wheat clumps, but I forgot. So I just finger-mixed it a bit before using a spoon to knock the butter into its two white powdery friends and stir. 


It looked unpromisingly lumpy at this early stage. But as we all know, recipes often don't look right at the beginning yet turn out perfectly fine.

I thought maybe these need just a bit more liquid to properly mix, so I dumped in the yolks. I figured they should go in first so that the thick sugary flour stuff could break up any egg bits that might want to evade the spoon instead of mixing. After a good hard spoon-beating, it looked like a big blob of mustard. I didn't think the yolks would add such a bright yellow after diluting them so much with the other ingredients.

At this point, I want to note how puny that little splash of lemon juice looked on top of everything that was already in the bowl. 

At this point, it should have started to taste like the lemon pie the recipe promised. However, it was rather bland. Two tablespoons are not enough lemon juice. Then I remembered the lemon peel and sugar that still waited, forgotten, in the coffee grinder.

The resulting pie-in-progress was delightfully tart. If you're following along at home, don't omit the lemon rind- it adds a good deal of the citrusy flavor. Without it, the pie will definitely taste like something's missing. So far, everything seemed to be coming out wonderfully (even if this pie demanded a lot of bowls).

All right, it is now time to bring out our star ingredient. Today, we are making a lemon pie full of this:

To give the recipe a fair chance, I got a beer I actually like. As I dumped it in, I already was thinking about future recipe revisions. If this recipe generated a successful pie, I was going to revisit it with hard cider instead. Lemon and apple seems like a much better pair to dump a lot of sugar on than lemon and beer. 

But enough stalling- are you ready to see me ruin a pie?

The more I look at this picture, the more it seems perfect for this pandemic. What could be more appropriate than dumping an entire bottle of beer into a pie on a countertop covered with multiple packs of face masks and marshmallows? 

Let's get a good look at the foam that came up in the pie pan and refused to dissipate. It looks oddly milky for a pie whose only dairy is three spoons of butter. Keep in mind we haven't mixed anything yet. The beer is just sitting on top looking a bit out of place.

When we stirred it in, the foam persisted. But where we previously had a happily lemon-flavored and cheerfully-yellow mixture, we now had a watery beige twelve-ounce puddle. If you pushed the foam aside with a spoon, you could see the hopelessly runny fluid below. It was the color of the computers we had in the nineties.

You know what, let's put this beer mess aside for a moment and beat some egg whites with sugar. Beating egg whites is such a nice, normal step in desserts. Nothing looks weird here, we're just making a meringue like we so often do in normal, beer-free things. Just ignore the bottle cap and beer opener. 

As aforementioned, I was skeptical that this recipe had been thoroughly tested before publishing. Having gotten all of the sugar into the egg whites, we are told to beat until we get stiff peaks. As a refresher, this is what a stiff peak looks like:

This is from when we made kisses.

But no matter how long I beat and bashed the egg whites, this floppy thing was the closest I got to any a peak. I think it was all the sugar the recipe tells us to put in. It seems like if you add too much sugar, your egg white peaks just can't support themselves anymore. I followed the recipe directions and this is the best peak I got.

 After a long time hoping the electric mixer could do even just a little bit more peak raising, I gave up and decided to mix our limp shaving cream into our beige suds. They actually combined very well. To the recipe writers' credit, this looks like every other sponge pudding I've made. You have this foamy stuff on top that bakes into this cake-ish top layer, and some very runny stuff underneath that sets into a custard. 

However, here I present my biggest evidence that the Culinary Arts Institute never tested this pie--- or if anyone did, their correction notes got lost. A pie recipe generally fills up one pie pan. If it makes way too much filling, there will almost always be a note like "Use a deep dish pie pan" or "This makes enough for two pies." However, when I tried to dump the filling into the crust, it threatened to overtop the sides of the pan and flood the counter with a sticky, beery mess. I didn't even get all of it poured in, but I still had to hastily grab a measuring cup with which to scoop a lot of pie back out. Maybe I was just a lot better at whipping egg whites than the Culinary Arts Institute and therefore had a much more voluminous lemon-beer pie filling, but I find it hard to believe that I am better all those people in the corporate test kitchen. Nevertheless, how could anyone testing out this recipe fail to notice that there was too much pie for one pan? Did they never try to pour their pie filling into a crust?

I thought about digging up some custard cups or something else to bake all this extra pie in. After all, I hate wasting food even if it is only technically edible. But then I thought to myself: Do I really want one and a half lemon-beer pies? I then dumped all the extra down the sink.

As the pie baked, it smelled like neither lemon nor beer. It smelled like bread in the oven-- and I mean really good  bread. Perhaps the beer flavor is subtle because most of the beer taste bakes out? I gave the pie an extra ten minutes in the oven just to be very sure that it actually set. Or at least, if it didn't set I could blame the recipe for faulty baking times. However, upon removing it from the oven I saw a weird boiling liquid around the bottom. Some further examination of the pie pan showed that the entire underside of the pie had this weird brown residue that had seeped through the crust.

However, the top of the pie didn't look so bad. At this point, we left the pie overnight. Maybe the recipe tells us to serve at room temperature because the pie will reabsorb all these leaking fluids as it cools.

It smelled like a pie pan of beer. At the rate the pie emitted beer fumes, I thought it would surely have no beer flavor left by the time it cooled. But when I cut myself a cautiously narrow slice the next day, it tasted like pie pan of Yuengling with lemon. If you like lemon in your beer, this could be the pie for you. But to the recipe writers' credit, we got the multilayered, cake-over-custard concoction they promised us.


One other person who tried a slice said "Hmm." Then he paused thoughtfully, and said "It's not bad. You can hardly taste the beer. It could use some more lemon though."

We lived with this pie for three days. It grew on us. At first I kept eating it to see if it really was as weird as I thought it was a few minutes ago. I wasn't the only person voluntarily partaking of the pie- it steadily diminished in my absence. It was weird yet oddly good--- if you like the beer you dumped in it. However, do not think you can serve this to people without first telling them what's in it. No one's going to beg you to divulge the secret ingredient that gives your pie that extra special flavor. It tastes like lemon and beer.

And so, to conclude this recipe, I have to share the perfect to music to put on your record changer when making and serving this pie:

Never has polking looked so action-packed.


  1. Several of my Pieathalon pies have had way more filling than I could fit in the crust, even though the recipe didn't indicate that the recipe was for more than one pie. I wonder if something has changed about pie plate depth in the past 50 years.

  2. I like that this is one of those wacky recipes that grows on you. It's always fun when you try something and go, "Huh, that's different..." But you keep eating it and eating it and it ends up being kind of enjoyable in a weird way.

    I wonder how this would taste without the lemon? Just do a straight up beer merengue. Hmmm...

    1. If I ever sell pies at an Oktoberfest, now I know what I'm making!

  3. I love the quote about who wants to watch you ruin a pie.
    Incidentally, all this talk about how much filling a pie should hold makes me think about my older sibling who liked to pretend to cook me various ways when I was a baby. I wonder how much filling a pie crust made of rolled out baby sister would hold. Of course my copyright year is newer than they prefer for their cookbooks.

    1. That's really cute! And... you'd probably need to break out the deep casserole.