Posted by: Erica Retrochef | February 27, 2012

Lemon Magic Pie

My 94-year-old grandmother recently moved out of the house in which she raised nine children to a more reasonably sized home — smaller, fewer stairs, and just generally easier to deal with. In the process of clearing out decades of accumulated treasures and trash, one of my aunts salvaged the “battered red-metal box” which held Grandma’s recipe collection. My aunts and uncles all agree that there was nothing particularly special about her cooking. And I can’t really blame her. With eleven mouths to feed, I would rely on spaghetti, tuna noodle casserole, and similar easy-prep dishes, too. “She always collected recipes, but that’s about as far as it went,” as her youngest son put it.

From the red box, my aunt created a combination scrapbook and recipe collection, weaving beloved favorite dishes into a narrative of family history. When our copy arrived in the mail, we flipped through it — and for some reason Buzz decided he really wanted to try this recipe…

Lemon Magic Pie

9″ prebaked pie shell, cooled
1 large tub Cool Whip [9 oz]
1 small can lemonade concentrate, thawed [6 oz]
2 T. lemon juice
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Mix last 4 ingredients together until smooth.

Pour into pie shell.

Refrigerate 6 hours or overnite.

You might think a refrigerator pie is an odd choice for February, but South Carolina is having a weird 70°F winter, so it’s not all that out-of-season.

In the bowl, this looked pretty nasty. Not terribly “magic” yet. It didn’t help that this particular brand of sweetened condensed milk tends to be more brown than beige, adding an unpleasant tinge to the glop.

Buzz finished mixing everything together until smooth and then dipped in a finger to taste. “Argh!”

(I personally didn’t find it to be as terrible as Buzz, who proclaimed it one of the worst things he’d ever tasted. It wasn’t that great, though.)

But it went into the pie crust to chill and solidify anyway. (Maybe the refrigerator will be magic?)

Ironically, the only person who really loathed this pie was the one who’d wanted to make it so much in the first place — Buzz thought it was terrible. I can see his point, since it’s cloyingly sweet and the lemon tastes more like fake citrus than fresh lemonade, a bad combination. On the other hand, very sugary creamy fruit flavors are a huge hit with the kids, and while I don’t think this is gourmet lemon pie, it isn’t all that bad. (Rather dense and overly sweet, but not THAT bad.) In a mid-century household used to lots of packaged foods, this would have fit right in.


  1. Wow, I was sure something was going to curdle here, but then I remembered that a.) Cool Whip is non-dairy, and b.) sweetened condensed milk is practically non-dairy. Wow. I love lemon pies, though. I can’t imagine a bad one. Maybe it’d be better with half the milk and zest added? Or just regular condensed milk? Cool Whip for an entire pie filling, rather than just a topping, is an unusual thought for me, though, so maybe that’s where It All Went Wrong.

    Kudos to your gran, by the way. May she live long to taste-test all of the recipes she so lovingly collected. That’s what she was doing it for, you know, y’all are supposed to cook them, not her!

  2. This pie is for feeding the many mouths of the un-fussy at a major feed – Christmas, Thanksgiving. It may not be best tasting, but it’s “home-made”, and it’s a step above those awful gluey cheap frozen fruit pies sold in holiday season. The kind you bake out of the package. (We had a frozen no-name blueberry pie that lived in half a dozen freezers – no one wanted it!)…Maybe it would have been better using real whipped cream and real lemon juice, but that defeats the purpose of turning out something simple and quick.

    • I’ve had some off-brand frozen desserts (pies and cakes) that needed to be reheated and served. This was worse than any of those—much, much worse, in fact. It was so sweet, it made my mouth feel funny. The texture was cloying and gummy. Eating the whipped topping straight would have been immeasurably better.

  3. Oh the magic of sweetened condensed milk. These recipes were often touted as tried and true. Of course for such a large family, it was probably a thought to have the ingredients on hand for special occasions. Taste buds have become more sophisticated these days but then, it was all about economy and ease of use. Too bad it left a sour taste in Bud’s mouth. Some of those recipes from long ago are now considered comfort food:)

    Thanks for sharing, Erica…

  4. A few years ago my sister made this pie for a family picnic. We immediately rechristened it the “Too Sweet Pie.” But we ate every bit of it.

  5. I love this pie, but mine had no frozen lemonade, just a cup or so of lemon juice. Plus, mine was always in a graham cracker crumb crust. Bud might like it better with real lemon juice and the graham cracker crust. I cannot imagine it with lemonade (too sweet) or with a regular pie crust.

  6. […] wasn’t quite as nice a lemon pie as Bob Hope’s — the flavor was more like Lemon Magic Pie, and it was quite sweet. (The meringue in particular didn’t need that much sugar, it ended up […]

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