Eats: Easy as pie — and just right for Mom’s big day

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I never thought of making pie as “easy,” but I have many recollections of watching my mother whip them up like nobody’s business. She would often say, “It’s just as easy to make more than one.”

Often I would come in from school to find her rolling out pie crust, slicing apples or sorting berries. I always knew when our grandparents were coming to supper because Mom could be found stirring the homemade custard that would be embellished with bananas or coconut, Grandpa’s two favorites.

And she never made my favorite lemon meringue without making a chocolate cream pie for my sister at the same time.

Pie: It’s often a family tradition carried through the generations. When I took my young grandson to Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro on a recent outing, their sign proclaiming “Pie Fixes Everything” brought Mom to mind.

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“Does pie really fix everything?” Jack asked, cocking his head to the side. “If you put a pie in the dishwasher, will it fix it? If you put one under the hood of the car will it make it go?”

“Well, no,” I answered. “But if you eat a piece, it will make you feel fabulous.”

“Really?” he asked, wide-eyed.

“Absolutely,” I replied.

Want to do something that will impress Mom? Gather the ingredients listed below and make her a pie. The three quick and easy recipes offered here require a minimum of fuss. Even the kids can get in on the action, and none of you will be caught in the kitchen for long on Mom’s big day.

Stick the pies in the fridge to chill for a few hours and enjoy your time with her. These particular pies taste like a spring day — light and refreshing — and are the perfect ending to a special meal or a welcome treat with a cup of afternoon tea.

Appropriately, I got these recipes from Mom. I first made these desserts when I was a young military wife living far from home in the ’70s. Mom wrote to me every week, and the recipes for key lime pie and fruity pie were sent with one of her newsy missives. The citrus chiffon pie, one of my favorite warm-weather desserts, is from Mom’s tattered copy of “Better Homes & Gardens All-Time Favorites.”

They’re from an era when Jell-O and Cool Whip were used with abandon; a slightly healthier version of these pies can be made without too much additional bother. There are all-natural flavored gelatins such as Bakol and Simply Delish at the grocery store, and homemade stabilized whipped cream (see recipe below) can replace the Cool Whip.

Although pre-made graham cracker crust or a store-bought pie crust will suffice, if you have young children helping you, give them the satisfying task of crushing up cookies and stirring in melted butter to create a crumb crust. We prefer shortbread cookies or Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers. Use 2 cups fine crumbs to 1 stick of melted butter, stir together and press into a well-buttered pie plate. Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes and cool before filling.

Key lime pie

2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup fresh key lime juice or bottled juice (you can often find this in the liquor aisle at the grocery store)

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon grated lime peel (using a regular lime is OK)

1 pre-baked pie crust

Whipped cream for garnish

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy, then gradually add condensed milk. Add key lime juice, water and lime peel. Pour into crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool 1 hour at room temperature, then refrigerate at least 4 hours. Garnish with whipped cream and lime twist.

Fruity pie

1 3-ounce box fruit-flavored gelatin, any flavor

2/3 cup boiling water

2 cups ice cubes

1 8-ounce container Cool Whip, thawed, or 1 cup stabilized whipped cream (recipe below)

1 1/2 cups sliced fruit — fresh, frozen or canned (Strawberries are my favorite, but any fruit is delicious.)

1 pre-baked pie crust

Completely dissolve gelatin in boiling water, stirring 3 minutes. Add ice cubes and stir 3 more minutes until gelatin is thickened. Remove any unmelted ice. Blend in Cool Whip or stabilized whipped cream until smooth. Fold in fruit. Chill for 3 hours so mixture will mound when spooned into pie crust. Garnish with fruit.

Stabilized whipped cream

4 ounces cream cheese, softened for at least an hour at room temperature

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup heavy whipping cream

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until soft and creamy. Transfer to a small bowl. In the first bowl (you don’t have to clean it), beat the heavy whipping cream just until soft peaks form. Add cream cheese mixture to whipped cream. Beat until stiff peaks are formed.

Citrus chiffon pie

1 envelope (1 tablespoon) unflavored gelatin

1 cup sugar, divided in half

Dash salt

4 large eggs, separated

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1/2 teaspoon each fresh lemon & orange peel

1/4 cup water

1 pre-baked pie crust

Whipped cream for garnish

Stir together gelatin, sugar and salt in medium saucepan. In a separate bowl beat together egg yolks, lemon and orange juice, and water. Add to gelatin mixture in pan. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil and gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon and orange peel. Chill, stirring occasionally, until soft-set. Beat 4 eggs whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in cooled gelatin mixture. Spoon into pie crust. Chill for 4 hours, until set. Garnish with whipped cream and a citrus twist.

Citrus chiffon pie: The perfect ending to a Mother’s Day dinner.

Key lime pie can be put together in a snap, according to the author.

The author’s mom and sister sample pies, clockwise from bottom: fruity pie, citrus chiffon pie and key lime pie.

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