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Last Thanksgiving I tried a pie from the Joy of Cooking that sounded amazing.

Called an Ohio Shaker Lemon Pie it consisted of lemons sliced paper thin and macerated in sugar. This recipe is similar.

The pie was beautiful. The flavor was overpowering. It was almost inedibly sour and bitter. I was the only person who finished my slice.

What did I do wrong or is this pie meant to be excessively sour and bitter?

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I have this recipe on my short list to try: http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/04/shaker-lemon-pie/

Few things I've noticed in her recipe and my own experience with pies containing whole lemons.

  • The meyer lemons as she notes make a huge difference. Mind you their growing season is short and they are not available everywhere. If you have access to them, then all the better. Otherwise find the sweetest variety you can.
  • If you can, select lemons with as thin rinds as possible.
  • That all said, the shaker pie is designed to be sweet, sour and bitter. How bitter depends on the above.
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  • A tip for selecting thin-skinned lemons - the paler the skin, the thinner it is. Sicilian varieties are often quite thin-skinned. – ElendilTheTall Jul 4 '12 at 10:04
  • Thanks for the answer! I suspected the lemons made a difference. I'll have to shop around and see if I can find any thinner varieties. Maybe I could make the pie with limes instead. – Sobachatina Jul 4 '12 at 12:11
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    I made that recipe with a friend - we were in a hurry so we didn't have time to let the lemons sit for a day (more like a couple hours), but even then it was good. A bit sour and bitter, yes, but definitely not inedibly so. – Cascabel Jul 12 '12 at 17:10
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You likely used sliced, unpeeled lemons.

The white stuff (the pith) is very bitter, and if a variety with a lot of pith and/or a very bitter pith was used, you get overwhelming bitterness.

While lemons and oranges are sometimes used with pith, there is usually sugar and heat (marmalade, candied peels) or salt (lemon pickles) involved - as in the maceration step of that recipe. Still, this can sometimes prove to not be enough.

Also, mind how thinly the recipe suggests to slice the lemons - having them thinner will aid maceration/degorging techniques (I would normally interpret a recipe saying "very thin" to mean "as you would get with a mandolin or usuba").

Also be aware that most lemons, as available from a grocery store, are processed in a way that makes them unfit for consuming whole and unpeeled.

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