When the weather is hot as blue blazes, our skin begins to glow (that’s the nicest way I can say it) and as the humidity rises so does our hair, inevitably the Southern Sweet Tooth flares up- Cool Ice Box Pies are the perfect summer dessert. A few ingredients, easy to make- without breaking a sweat- an Icebox Pie is truly easier than making homemade ice cream. Some have even figured how to make it without turning on an oven, just use a prepared graham crust. I’d rather make my own pie crust mainly because I can control how much sugar and how deep the crust will be- and I like crust! But hey it’s summer- take it easy if you want to… In Alabama, it’s amazing but children are already back in school! Icebox pies are a sweet reminder of vacations– remember that Key Lime Pie you ate? And.. you’ll know you’re in a good place to eat out just by tasting their Ice Box Pies! There are all kinds of Ice Box Pies- some have cooked pudding or custard fillings-however…
Citrus Ice Box Pies are my favorite-
- Pit Barbeque whines for relief with Lemon Ice Box Pie,
- Seafood and spicy Mexican Food seem to whimper for cooling Key Lime Pie,
- Sour Orange Ice Box Pie- is the perfect ending for Chicken dinners, a cool Chicken Salad.
Sweetened Condensed Milk is essential to Citrus Ice Box Pies. I guess the only ‘southern’ ingredient in them could be considered the plentiful citrus we grow down this way.. New Yorker Gail Borden Jr. received a patent on Sweetened Condensed Milk August 19, 1856 and darlin’ I’m celebrating!
In an effort to find a way to store milk safely (when you don’t have a cow nearby) he developed a method of evaporating the liquid and using sugar as a preservative which produced sweetened condensed milk. Southerners embraced the product wholeheartedly. Why, teethin’ babies were comforted with a small square of cotton fabric soaked in it, thinned out? It was used a baby formula, in the sick room- sweet cool and creamy, condensed milk was considered a safe food supplement. Straight from the can- well, let’s don’t go there because I could possibly eat the whole can! Gail Borden, Jr. spent some time working for a newspaper in Texas before he came up with his famous dairy products and has been credited with the phrase- ‘Remember the Alamo’ and I can tell you, a can of sweetened condensed milk will defeat a whole low calorie diet! Of course, southern folks began making desserts, candies, cakes and pies- Oh my, what glorious pies originated from the humble can of Eagle Brand, we cannot live without it!
Sweetened Condensed Milk was originally sold by Borden to maintain the U.S. Army during all of that unpleasantness of the War between the States. Shortly, after the war -sweetened condensed milk, in a new and improved version became available nationally, it was especially embraced in the Southern States because of it’s long shelf life which has always been of concern here. Throughout our history, in the South, what we share in common is our love of good food. Sweetened Condensed Milk was patented first in America and a short time later in Switzerland. Since then, it has been embraced literally all over the world!
You might be interested to know that Key Lime Pie first showed up on Southern tables in 1901. And just in case you’re thinking Ice Box Pies are a relatively new concoction, they’ve been around over 150 years! Key Limes are not to be confused with Persian Limes- key limes are tiny- about the size of a quail egg; are more tart and almost yellow in color- Persian limes are the bright green limes of grocery produce department stores. The truth is most true Key Limes are imported from the Caribbean or for a very limited time in the Florida Keys and are very costly. Key Limes are no longer widely available and that’s a shame…Modern Key Lime Pie recipes call for the addition of Lemon Juice and Persian Lime zest to make a blend which tastes more like the real deal.
Sour Orange Ice Box Pies have an almost identical history- Sour Oranges were once found in the Alabama Sunbathing Capital, Orange Beach! Sour Orange trees are little scrubby trees bearing.. a ‘pucker up baby’ Sour Orange flavor. Almost all of the Coastal South had some of these small citrus trees- the ones that survive are still not considered valuable- too little flesh and too many seeds…Sour Oranges can be found in specialty markets, but never on a large scale. To get that Sour Orange flavor-mix Equal Parts:
- Lemon juice, Orange Juice with Orange Zest and Grapefruit Juice to mimic the flavor of an actual Sour Orange.
- I like to add about a teaspoon of Orange Marmalade, 1/4 teaspoon of orange extract- even a dribble of orange blossom water is a nice addition!
Almost all Ice Box Pies start with a Graham Cracker Crust. Talk about an interesting product! Evangelist and hard core prohibitionist, Sylvester Graham is credited with the first vegetarian movement in the United States in the 1800’s… He believed wholesome foods would result in wholesome living… Alrighty. Anyway, Honey Grahams® became the standard Graham Crackers that we know as the base for those chocolate-y toasted marshmallow-y fireside treats known as S’mores– and other, almost sinful desserts! Wonder what ol’ Sylvester would think of that?
And let’s not forget a wholesome ingredient in Graham Crackers- Honey. The finest- often called the gold standard of American produced honey, is Tupelo Honey. (not Tupelo Mississippi) For just a very few weeks along the Coastal South, the Black Gum or Tupelo Trees bloom- the catch? They grow in the swamps! Bee Hives are cleaned out completely, then hauled to the swamps, set on stands or left on anchored boats and checked daily. Some have called Tupelo Honey- the ‘champagne of honey’ which naturally has a slight lemon flavor.
The swamps of the Apalachicola River have the highest concentration of Tupelo Trees in the United States. Very close to Alabama’s Gulf Coast- the town of Apalachicola is only 3 square miles, an old and famous fishing village, but also right near the National Forest bearing the same name and the swamps! Needless to say, we’re proud of this Southern Honey! And yes, we do hope our Graham Crackers have a touch of honey, especially when we make our teetotalin’ Graham Cracker crusts!
I actually love the term ‘Ice Box Pie’ – it sounds old fashioned and better yet? Cool… Years ago, once or twice a week- the Ice Man delivered a huge block of Ice hoisted with big tongs and dropped it in the top of the old Oak Ice Box- set inside the house or a storm shelter- the ice would last…well, depending on the time of year- maybe a few days to a week. The time frame for the invention of the Ice Box was also in the 1860’s- Now come on, you thought all that was going on was that awful unpleasantness between the North and the South, right? Not so…Ice Boxes, Graham Flour Products and Sweetened Condensed Milk were finding their way into homes North and South! In fact, just fifty years later, when we were all united under the same flag, wearing the same uniforms– (Southern Ladies do love to see a man in uniform!) Sweetened Condensed Milk made it’s way once again to battlefields and mess halls uniting us all around a product that was safe, had a long shelf life and sustained us all. So, in commemoration of the American version of this sweet milk’s Birthday, August 19, I give you..
Camellia’s Cottage Lemon Ice Box Pie
Honey Graham Cracker Crust
Preheat oven to 350º
- 8 graham crackers pulsed 8-10 times in food processor
- 3 tablespoons sugar plus 1 teaspoon of Tupelo Honey (optional)
- 3/4 stick or 6 Tbs. of melted butter
In mixing bowl combine graham cracker crumbs and sugar. While the butter is still warm, add Tupelo honey. Add melted butter/honey mixture to graham cracker/sugar mixture and toss together until well combined. Do not overmix. Press into a 9 inch glass pie plate-or spring form pan- pressing crumbs on the bottom and up the sides. Bake until a warm golden brown- 10-15 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool while making the Lemon Filling.
- 1 can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
- Zest of one Large Lemon (reserve some zest for garnish)
- 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (no substitutes!)
- 3 large egg yolks Fresh Grade A
Blend together condensed milk and egg yolks with hand mixer on low speed- add lemon juice slowly, blending well. Beat until stiff enough to stand in peaks. Pour into cooled graham cracker crust. Garnish with reserved lemon zest. Chill for at least 6 hours or overnight. Some folks like to add a meringue, I prefer Citrus Ice Box Pies without a meringue – the soft creamy, cool, tart and softly sweet dessert seems perfect without embellishment! I am particularly sentimental about Lemon Ice Box Pies since it is the very first pie I learned to make, it’s just that easy!
As an extra note- if you don’t enjoy making pies yourself, should you run up on a Pit Barbeque Joint or a truly Southern restaurant… look for the glass refrigerator case, if they have Ice Box Pies, then you know it’s a great place to eat! Love y’all, Camellia
*Lemon juice has the effect of ‘cooking’ the eggs, however use caution if a health condition such as pregnancy warns against the consumption of raw eggs. *All photographs are mine, except the photograph of Tupelo Trees which is from www.nationalforests.org and may be subject to copyright.
*The Lee Brothers of South Carolina have an excellent recipe for Sour Orange Ice Box Pie which is only slightly different from mine. This wonderful cookbook can be found through major booksellers * How exciting to have an Eagle Brand cookbook- I’ve had mine for years and I believe they are still available at their website or on Amazon.com Check out www.eaglebrand.com and www.bordendairy.com/history for more information!
*I’m ashamed to say- I researched Graham Crackers and Tupelo Honey on my own and neglected to source the sites. *Eagle Brand® and Nabisco Honey Grahams® are registered trademarks- Tupelo Honey is a type of honey, if you find it- buy it! Camellia’s Cottage is not a paid advertiser. There are other great brands available as well, Graham crackers, sweetened condensed milk and Tupelo Honey have a long shelf life and should be part of any well stocked pantry!