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Czech Lemon Meringue Cheese Cake

I own about 350 cookbooks and food books. My maternal grandmother, on the other hand, owned maybe 25, with about 10 of those that she used regularly kept on an accessible kitchen shelf.  She also, however, collected hundreds of recipes from friends and relatives (handwritten by her or them) or clipped from the newspaper, from magazines, or off product packaging.

I've sorted through her various collections of these loose recipes in drawers, stuck into books, and in recipe boxes and categorized the handwritten ones into envelopes labeled things like soups and stews,  bread and rolls, side dishes, etc. One manilla envelope holds a dozen pie recipes, in which I found one for Czech Lemon Meringue Cheese Cake. It's in my grandmother's handwriting, but there are no notes to identify its source. Nor does my mother or one of her sisters remember my grandmother ever making it.

But make it, my mother did, recently for the annual Morkovsky reunion in Hallettsville, Texas. We were looking for a dish with a Czech or Texas Czech pedigree that was different than anything we'd made before. Like many recipes I've come across in community cookbooks, the word "Czech" could have been included in the title by a well-meaning, proud-to-be-Czech person, not knowing they'd later be confusing and deceiving someone like me who's fascinated with the metamorphosis of Czech cuisine into Texas-Czech cuisine. I've found recipes for "Czech" cornbread that are no different than every recipe for basic cornbread available or "Czech" potato soup strangely similar to the one I learned to make in a Katy, Texas junior high home economics class.

If I had to deduce the motives of the above perpetrator of the culinary crime of misidentifying a recipe as Czech, I suspect that they pieced together recipes for pie crust and meringue, but instead of the traditional lemon custard filling, they substituted a variation of dry curd cheese kolach filling.

The Frankenstein of a pie was actually very delicious and summer-y tasting. My mom is a very good cook, so made some needed adjustments to the original recipe (the baking times were either completely off or non existent, for example.) And there's nothing like finally making my first meringue under the tutelage of a master like my mother. Meringue pies (like soufflés) seemed too challenging and mysterious to try on my own before.

If any reader knows of this or a similar recipe and can tell me more about its "Czech" origins, please comment. Did the assumed filling substitution make this recipe "Czech" (or Texas-Czech)? Are pineapple kolaches still Czech (or Texas-Czech)?  Is jalapeño-cheese smoked pork sausage made by the Smrkovsky's in Schulenburg Czech (or Texas-Czech)? Let's argue about it over a piece of pie.

Czech Lemon Meringue Cheese Cake

½ cup butter 
½ cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 c. flour
zest of 1 lemon

1. Blend the first 5 ingredients in a medium size bowl and work into a dough. Wrap and put into the refrigerator for half an hour. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Butter a 10 inch deep dish pie plate. Roll dough to fit pie pan. Prick with a fork. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.  

8 oz. cream cheese or dry cheese
6 T. sugar
2 egg yolks
3 T. sour cream
juice of 1 large lemon
¼ c. golden raisins (optional)

Beat together cheese, sugar, egg yolks, sour cream and lemon juice until very light and fluffy. Add raisins and pour into the baked crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  

Filling before the raisins are added.

6 tablespoons sugar
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice

4 egg whites.

Beat whites and the lemon juice with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Continue beating while gradually adding the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat at high speed until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue over filling, smoothing it with a wet knife.  *Note from my mom - spread the meringue on the filling while the filling is hot and spread it all the way to the edges of the pie dish and the meringue will seal better (i.e. not contract while cooling.) 

Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes until the meringue is golden.


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