Meringues in various forms have appeared here on this blog over the years – dry meringues (in a story about pavlova), baked Alaska, lemon meringue pie of course, and even cod meringue pie – but I don’t believe I have ever asked or answered the question “what is a meringue?”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines meringue as “a light mixture of stiffly beaten egg whites and sugar, baked until crisp; a shell or other item of confectionery made of this mixture, typically decorated or filled with whipped cream” with the caveat that “In some recipes, esp. when meringue is used as a topping, cooking of the mixture is stopped before it is completely crisp.”
The first supporting quotation given in the OED is from Phillip’s New World of Words, published in 1706 which says “Meringues (Fr. in Cookery), a sort of Confection made of the Whites of Eggs whipt; fine Sugar, and grated Lemmon-peel, of the bigness of a Wal-nut; being proper for the garnishing of several Dishes.” The next reference is in 1725, in Chomel’s Dictionaire Œconomique, which describes a meringue as “a small sugar work of great use.”
I guess Cod Meringue Pie falls outside of these definitions as the egg whites are not sweetened, which surely means that the topping for the fish would come out like scrambled egg white rather than fluffy meringue?
Delicious Grapefruit Pie is what you get when you ring the changes on a Lemon Meringue Pie. I include the recipe because it also demonstrates the skill (or not) of recipe-writing, and/or or copy-editing, as well as providing, apparently accidentally, two slightly different meringue toppings.
Delicious Grapefruit Pie.
Juice 1 ½ grapefruit, juice ½ orange, juice ½ lemon, 1 ¼ cups sugar, 1 cup hot water, 4 level tablespoons cornflour, 1 teaspoon butter, 2 eggs, meringue.
Mix cornflour and sugar, add boiling water, stirring, cook 2 minutes, add butter, egg yolks (slightly beaten) and strained fruit juices. Cool and put into baked shell. Cover with meringue made with stiffly-beaten egg whites, 2 level tablespoons powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Bake 15 minutes in slow oven, until meringue is set and delicately browned. Meringue: Two egg whites, 4 tablespoons sugar, ¼ teaspoon baking powder. Beat egg whites until frothy, adding sugar and baking powder. Continue beating until stiff. Cover pie. Put in moderate oven for 15 minutes.