Much like his daring stunts, this recipe proved more complicated than meets the eye.
Douglas Fairbanks was one of the great innovators, artists and pioneers in the silent era. Onscreen he played the swashbuckling hero in films like "Robin Hood", "The Mark of Zorro", "The Thief of Bagdad" and "The Black Pirate". Offscreen he co-founded the USC Film School, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and joined his wife Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and director D.W. Griffith in forming United Artists.
I found several recipes attributed to Fairbanks including one for Friend Chicken, Gnocckis a la Romaine and another for Rice Timbales Mexicana. Given our burning hot temperatures here in Los Angeles at the moment, the Lemon Pie sounded like a cool refreshing alternative. It was published in the 1927 edition of "Photoplay's Cook Book: 100 Favorite Recipes of the Stars."
*NOTE: I tried making this as closely to Doug's recipe as possible and I failed.....twice...and badly. On my first attempt, the egg yolks promptly scrambled when they hit the mixture. It seriously looked like a scramble egg and lemon soup. On my second attempt the lemon filling was VERY runny and soupy. I could have seriously just poured it into a glass and served it as a mock cocktail. I placed a late night call to my friend Donna Hill and she gave me directions that were far more sensible. She also told me how to "temper" eggs and how to make a cornstarch drizzle.
The recipe I'm posting below if different from the image above. That's ok though. Hopefully I have learned the hard way so you won't have to. In the interest of time, I opted to go with a pre-made graham cracker crust.
1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups water
2 lemons, juiced and zested
2 tablespoons butter
4 egg yolks, beaten
1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked
4 egg whites
6 tablespoons white sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (The revised directions are from AllRecipes.com, which broke this down and made it far more simple for me to follow.)
To Make Lemon Filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 cup sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in water, lemon juice and lemon zest. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil. Stir in butter. Place egg yolks in a small bowl and gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of hot sugar mixture. (*Donna suggested that I add the hot liquid to the eggs by the spoonful.) Whisk egg yolk mixture back into remaining sugar mixture. Bring to a boil and continue to cook while stirring constantly until thick. Remove from heat. Pour filling into baked pastry shell. Pie must be VERY cool before adding the Meringue.
To Make Meringue: In a large glass or metal bowl, whip egg whites until foamy. Add sugar gradually, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue over pie, sealing the edges at the crust.
Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown.
Tracey Goessel is the author of "The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks". She is the founder of the Los Angeles-based Film Preservation Society. She has published numerous articles on silent film history and has lectured on Douglas Fairbanks widely. She is a major collector of silent film ephemera, and her purchase of the Pickford-Fairbanks love letters started an eight-year quest to write the definitive biography of America's favorite swashbuckler.
The Final Result
Fortunately this turned out well. I agree with the statement in the Photoplay Cook Book, "It is a fine happy ending for a Sunday dinner."
I encourage everyone to read Tracey's book. Click HERE to order a signed copy! You can also explore the Film Preservation Society website to purchase the American Biograph AB window cling and learn more about their preservation efforts. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
There are several Douglas Fairbanks films on DVD and more coming soon to Blu-Ray. Stay tuned to my social media channels for announcements.