Author Linda Lou Burton Recalls Christmas Past

What is your favorite Christmas Day Dessert? Something that fondly reminds you of other times, and other people? In Chapter 46 of Patchwork Love, Clayton begins reminiscing about the lemon pie his mother made at Christmas time. He recalled the “egg white goo” on the top, which he pushed to the side to get at the creamy lemon filling. Just what was in that lemon pie that Clayton enjoyed so much in his childhood?

His mother was born in 1934, we learn from her grave marker, and likely used recipes handed down from her mother and grandmother. The Lemon Ice Box Pie made by my own grandmother at Christmas time was a simple mix, with trusty Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk as a key ingredient. Here is my grandmother’s handwritten recipe, which I find verified in an old Borden ad:

  • 15 oz can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 2 egg yolks

Combine ingredients. Stir until mixture thickens. Pour into 8-inch crumb crust. Top with 2-egg-white meringue. Bake at 325 15 minutes until lightly browned. Cool.

My grandmother called it Lemon Ice Box Pie. I never heard her refer to any type of “refrigeration” as anything other than “the ice box.” A little research shows that “ice boxes” served households well into the 1930s. Freon and Frigidaire gradually came into homes, as electric lines were strung from town to countryside.

My research further revealed that Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk goes back to the 1850s! It was introduced to fight food poisoning and other illnesses brought on by lack of refrigeration, and became a household name during the Civil War. Later it was credited with lowering the infant mortality rate – a milk that was safe and nourishing.

In 1931, Borden Kitchens sent out a call for recipes “in which Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk makes cooking quicker, easier, and surer.” They got 80,000 responses! Elsie the smiling Borden Cow was there to help cooks everywhere – she even starred at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

So now I understand why I grew up on lemon ice box pie. Of course, that means my children, and grandchildren, and the characters I wrote about in Patchwork Love, get the same privilege.

Read more of the history of Eagle Brand at https://www.eaglebrand.com/history and check out new recipes at https://www.eaglebrand.com/recipes/pies. Keep in mind that the can today is 14 oz, not 15, as of old, and the Lemon Ice Box Pie they feature today has none of that pesky meringue Clayton pushed aside. But now there is also Lemon Cloud, Lemon Cream, Lemon Raspberry, Lemon Sponge, Strawberry Lemon, and if you don’t want lemon for your Christmas treat – Sweet Potato Pecan and Deep Dish Pumpkin. It’s so much more than pie, it’s memories!