funeral food, and a recipe: lemon buttermilk pie

lemon buttermilk pie | the merry gourmet

It took me three days to make a pie last week.

On the first day, I diced the cold, unsalted butter into cubes and stored the small nuggets of butter in a plastic container in the refrigerator. I think that was the day my sister and I went to my mom’s house to meet with the minister, to plan the details of Dad’s funeral.

On the second day, I carefully weighed the flour and measured the sugar and salt. Using the pastry cutter, I cut the butter into the flour and drizzled in ice water, finally using my hands to pull together the piecrust dough. That was the day we took Mom shopping for black dresses to wear to the funeral. The dough, in two plastic wrapped discs, waited patiently on a shelf in the refrigerator next to the bagels and cream cheese.

On the third day, I floured the large, wooden breadboard I keep stored upright in the pantry. I unwrapped the butter-speckled dough, and once it warmed up a bit, I rolled the dough into a large circle. It wasn’t a perfect circle; it never is. When the dough felt tight beneath the rolling pin, I paused and let it rest, lifting the edges to scatter a bit more flour underneath. When the dough relaxed into itself, I took the rolling pin to it again, shaping it under gentle pressure.

After another rest in the fridge, and then in the freezer, I blind baked the crust, using old coins from our change jar as pie weights. The custard filling came together quickly while the crust was baking. It’s an easy pie, really, this lemon buttermilk pie. Eggs and buttermilk and sugar. Some lemon juice and lemon zest. Some whisking. It baked for an hour before I took it out of the oven. When it was done, just before noon, I changed out of my jeans and put on my black dress. The funeral was at 2 pm.

It seems silly, to make a pie before your father’s funeral. We never even ate any of the pie that day. It would be the next day before I felt ready to slice it.

lemon buttermilk pie | the merry gourmet

Friends and family showed their love for my father and their support for us in so many ways, and one of the most meaningful and memorable ways was through gifts of food.

After the funeral, we returned to my mother’s house where so many of her friends had prepared and brought all sorts of dishes. There was a green salad, potato salad, and deviled eggs. There were casseroles of all types: chicken casserole, broccoli and cheese casserole, macaroni and cheese. There was a spiral cut ham and rolls for sandwiches, fried chicken, and roast chicken. There were perfectly-salted acre peas and peppery creamed corn and fresh strawberries and three different types of melon. There were sweets: two varieties of brownies, a pecan pound cake, a lemon pound cake, a chocolate layer cake, and more. There was sweet tea, unsweetened tea, and lemonade.

I’m not sure whether funeral food is strictly a southern thing, but if it is, I’m glad I live in the south. I am so grateful to everyone who prepared food for our family during this time. I’ve eaten a lot of takeout over the past two weeks, and while takeout is usually something I’m okay with, I’d had enough. I craved a home cooked meal, but I didn’t have the energy to cook it myself. The chicken pot pie and blueberry jello salad that my sister-in-law made for us ranked far higher than the Chinese takeout I usually love. The chicken fettuccini alfredo casserole and the baked ham were ten times more satisfying than the Domino’s pizza we’ve relied on too often.

I finally had a slice of pie yesterday afternoon, and it was good pie. It reminded me of my grandmother’s chess pie, but with less overt sweetness and more lemon flavor.

I never had the chance to make this pie for my father, and I sure wish I had. He would have loved it. He would have asked for seconds.

Yield: 1 9-inch pie.

Cook Time: 1 hour

Lemon Buttermilk Pie

Buttermilk pie is a classic southern custard-based pie. It's easy to make from ingredients you probably already have on hand. This pie would make an excellent addition to a potluck, and in my own mind, it fits the definition of the perfect funeral food - easy and comforting.


Ingredients for Crust:
1 single-crust pie dough
Egg wash (1 egg white + 1 teaspoon water)

Ingredients for Filling:
3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup full-fat buttermilk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon


Blind bake the crust:

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Carefully transfer to a 9-inch pie plate, and trim all but a 1/2-inch overhang. Tuck the excess dough under itself and crimp the edges. Place in freezer for 20 minutes. While piecrust is chilling, heat oven to 425 degrees, and place oven rack in middle position.

Prick the bottom and sides of the piecrust several times with a fork, then line the pie plate with two sheets of nonstick foil, with the nonstick side facing the piecrust. Fill with dried beans or pie weights and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, brush the bottom of the crust gently with the egg wash, then bake for another 3 minutes. Decrease oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Make the Filling:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, granulated sugar, salt, and flour. Add in the melted butter, buttermilk, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Whisk the filling until thoroughly combined.

Pour the filling into the shell and carefully transfer pie to oven. Bake for one hour, or until the filling is set and barely moves when jiggled. Let the pie cool on a rack; serve at room temperature or chilled. Store in the refrigerator.

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48 Responses to “fresh ricotta cheesecake and a love story”

  1. Oh honey… I so wish this didn’t have to happen this way. I’m sure it was tough for you and your family. Thank you for sharing all of these moments (no matter how difficult I’m sure it was to do) with us.

    I’m sure a slice of this cheesecake made you feel just a little better. I know I would find it comforting.

  2. Yuri — May 15, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

    So sorry to read about your beloved Fritz. I relate to this story because I lost my first and only dog Pucca over a year ago and I still miss her… All cats and dogs go to heaven.

  3. Kimmie — May 15, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

    I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I have no words that will magically make things okay, just know that the Gabby monster and I are thinking about you guys. What a sweet story about such a sweet, sweet companion. Much love to your family.

  4. Caneel — May 15, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. ((HUGS)) I’m glad you have the memories – he sounds like a wonderful companion.

  5. Stephanie@PlainChicken — May 15, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

    We lost our beloved Marmalade to lymphoma a few weeks ago. Like your Fritz, Marmalade was my best friend – with me through thick and thin. I miss her terribly.

    I am so sorry for your loss. I think Winnie the Pooh says it best – “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever”

  6. emily — May 15, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

    losing a much loved pet is horribly hard
    and there arent many words to make it better
    i’m sorry for your loss

  7. Steph — May 15, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

    What a lovely timeline tribute to Fritz. You had a lot of history together!
    I especially like the image of Fritz on top of Netter’s. Maybe he’s teaching human anatomy to cats in kitty heaven. 😉
    I am so sorry for the loss of your longtime feline companion.

  8. JulieD — May 15, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

    I’m so sorry, MJ. I have been thinking about you. I know what you’re going through and I know there are no words to bring comfort to you and your family. I know with time, it will get easier. Huge {HUGS}

  9. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — May 15, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

    MJ my heart is breaking for you. Fritz was one very lucky little guy. Hugs XOXOX

  10. JenniferA — May 15, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Cats are family members. It’s never easy. I hope Fritz is in heaven hanging out with my sweet Stella right now.

  11. Losing a beloved pet is so hard; we take them not just into our homes but our hearts and I know you are hurting. Your cat was lucky to have such a loving home and soon one day I pray the sweet memories will replace your sadness now. Take good care; my thoughts are with you.

  12. Isabelle — May 15, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

    Hugs to you and the rest of your family. I’m so very sorry.
    Those little fuzzbutts sure do work their way into our hearts, don’t they? No matter how long they’re with us, it just never seems like it’s long enough when the time comes to say goodbye. Thank you for sharing your memories of Fritz with us… he was a lucky, lucky cat.

  13. Macaroni Mama — May 15, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

    Such a sweet post. Fritz was very special and defiinitely the “pick of the litter”. It’s hard losing a pet because of that unconditional love pets give humans. Enjoy your cheesecake, Merry Jennifer. I love you! We all know Fritz is now feeling no pain.

  14. jaclyn — May 15, 2011 @ 7:36 pm

    i’m so sorry for your loss, MJ. losing a pet is heartbreaking and devastating, and i hope you and your family are coping with the loss of Fritz, and knowing he is no longer in pain hopefully brings you some comfort. i think this was a lovely tribute and timeline of Fritz’s life, and there’s no doubt that he was loved completely and unconditionally by you all.

    also, i’m gonna give you a big ol’ hug when i see you this week. so get ready.

  15. Janis — May 15, 2011 @ 7:39 pm

    It is so hard losing a pet. I lost my Saint Bernard on the trip from CA to NE. I am sorry Sweetie.

  16. Lana — May 15, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

    I remember coming to our family cottage in the mountains on winter break and finding out that Pippi, our pekingese, has died. The whole family was in tears for days. It’s not easy, but you will always have those memories of Fritz to comfort you. I cannot give you a real hug until Atlanta, but a virtual one is sincere and filled with California sunshine:)

  17. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry that you have lost this important member of your family. I just love how his story is so entwined with your story, and that he was there with you each step of the way. I have never made my own ricotta but I would love to attempt this cheesecake in honor of Fritz.

  18. Kristina @ — May 15, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

    I am so sorry the loss of your beloved Fritz… I really loved this post, how you shared the details through the years… it brought tears to my eyes, we are currently on vacation and I am missing Basil, our dachshund, even more now!

    hugs to all of you…

  19. LiztheChef — May 15, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

    They are so special that they will never truly leave us…

  20. My husband and I often say we love our pugs far too much and that’s the most wonderful yet sad things about having pets. You love them so much when they’re here, and it hurts so much when they’re gone. I’m so sorry for your loss and huge hugs to you and your family!

  21. I’m so sorry to hear about Fritz… Reading your post brought tears to my eyes. I know how hard it is to lose a beloved pet since they are such a big part of the family. *Big Hug*

    Also, the cheesecake looks lovely! I just love ricotta cheesecakes (as well as homemade ricotta)… I’ll have to give this a try!

  22. Jennifer (Savor) — May 15, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

    Oh darling – I know how much this hurts. I am glad that Fritz had such a great mommy and family.

  23. Flavia — May 15, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

    Hi Merry, I am so sorry that you lost your beloved Fritz. I know the heartache of losing a pet. We lost our 11 year-old English Springer Spaniel, Dutch on Valentine’s Day. It’s never the same without them. If you haven’t read it already, I recommend reading “The Rainbow Bridge”. I printed it out and have it hanging in my office where I see it every day. It gives me comfort. I hope you and your family are comforted by all the wonderful memories you created with Fritz. Rest assured that one day you will all be reunited. He waits for you now.

  24. Gail — May 15, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

    This is the most wonderful tribute to a beloved pet I’ve ever read. Truly.

  25. The Yummy Mummy — May 15, 2011 @ 11:05 pm

    I’m so sorry, honey. But what a beautiful way to honor his life and friendship. What a lucky cat to have lived this life with you…

    xo Kim

  26. Liren — May 15, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

    Oh, my heart aches for you and for dear Fritz. What a sweet kitty soul – he was such a handsome cat and I loved the story of his wonderful life. Hugs to you!

  27. I don’t even know the words that help lift the pain of the loss of a cherished pet. It’s beautiful the way he touched your life and the life of your children. He was there to watch over all of you during his life and I know he will still be watching over you now.

  28. Judith Klinger — May 16, 2011 @ 6:50 am

    What courage to share this story. I would have been bawling so much I’d ruin the keyboard. It’s stunning how much we come to rely on our little friends. When our son was about 8 years old and the guinea pig finally died (long story), our son walked around wailing, “I need something furry.”
    I think we all need something furry to cuddle up with.
    Our latest cat, Raffaello dello Spillo, was found in a field in Umbria. Our vet calls him “Gatto Fortunato” or Lucky Cat. Actually I think we’re the lucky ones.
    Thanks for sharing.

  29. Ken⏐hungry rabbit — May 16, 2011 @ 7:43 am

    A beautiful tribute to Fritz. So sorry for your loss. I’m sure in some way Fritz is still there watching over your family.

  30. SMITH BITES — May 16, 2011 @ 8:05 am

    it’s amazing how certain events are defined by significant markers in our lives and that our minds will remember where we lived, what was going on in our lives and those feelings we experienced. Fritz was a wonderful companion, a good friend and confidant who was also part of your life over the last 17 years and i know you miss him; it is never easy to say goodbye. writing it down helps to preserve those memories and also help us to remember those markers with joy and laughter mixed with the tears. i am thankful you had Fritz AND that you have been able to share him with us. hugs to you MJ

  31. Winnie — May 16, 2011 @ 10:22 am

    So sorry about Fritz MJ. See you soon, and I’ll give you a proper hug 🙂

  32. Sending you hugs across the miles. Have another slice of cheesecake. You deserve it.

  33. thatshowiroll — May 16, 2011 @ 11:58 am

    What an emotional post. It might have been hard to pull it all out, so many years of your life, but such a great tribute to your cat. So sorry about your lost. <>
    That is a lovely cheesecake, unpretentious, creamy and surely full of flavor. I like the accent of the lemon zest.

  34. I am so, so sorry for your loss. I know how it feels, we have lost two of our dogs over the years, and I wish I could give you a great big hug!

  35. Aggie — May 16, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    No words…just a virtual hug. Its amazing how our animals become our family. Your story of Fritz’s life is beautiful. He’s purring up in cat heaven right now…

    I can’t believe you made your own ricotta. and that cheesecake looks absolutely lovely.

  36. Leigh — May 16, 2011 @ 1:30 pm

    ***giant hugs*** I remember sitting on my steps around the age of 7 or 8, with my mom’s arms around me, as she explained that our Golden Retriever had been hit by a car and wasn’t coming home. I know it’s not any easier, whether it was sudden or long-anticipated. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  37. Jayne — May 16, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

    Oh MJ what a beautifully written post. I’m so sorry to hear about Fritz.

  38. Jennifer Hess — May 16, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

    MJ, this is such a beautiful tribute to a furry family member you clearly loved very, very much, and I still can’t read it without weeping for you all. I know all too well how hard it is to say goodbye like this, and I hope you know how much comfort your thoughts and words brought us when we lost our Kali last year. I’m hoping to give at least a little of that back to you and your family now. Thinking of you often, and sending so much love.

  39. Cheryl Arkison — May 17, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

    Oh man. Such a hard story to hear. Much love to you and the family. We know indeed what you are going through.
    But this cheesecake does indeed sound fantastic!

  40. Kate @ savour fare — May 17, 2011 @ 7:42 pm

    I’ve been AWOL (work has been kicking my butt) but I’m so sorry about the loss of your kitty. We just lost our pup and it just sucks. Hugs.

  41. Catherine — May 17, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

    I actually had to put my cat to sleep on Mother’s Day as well…. choked me up to read your story. Feeling your pain.

  42. I just waned to let you know how sorry I am for your loss! I know too well how attached we get to our kitties! I had 2 that I got when I was stationed overseas in the navy (Hawaii), and the moved to Florida with me back n 1993. Pauley and Sheena were my first children, and I still loved them even when they got demoted to “pet” status. We had to say goodbye to Sheena in Jan 2007, and Pauley in Sept 2007. Hard stuff!! My thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.

  43. Megan'sCookin' — May 24, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

    I’m so sorry about Fritz. It was lovely story and a terrific tribute!

  44. Pingback: for jennie, for all of us: frozen peanut butter pie | The Merry Gourmet

  45. Sarah — September 12, 2011 @ 10:06 pm

    Oh my God… I had my little kitty Dish on my lap as I read your story and started bawling into her fur as she purred. I know that one day that time will come, and I hate that you had to go through that – I can’t imagine what I’ll be like. But remembering the good times, the purrs, the antics and those who shared that joy with keeps the memory alive. Thanks for being so open and honest.

    PS – props on such a great batch of ricotta, I’ve always been scared to try it!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — September 13th, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

      Thank you so much, Sarah. And really, the ricotta is a breeze. Just go for it!

  46. Jan Beaumont — June 28, 2013 @ 9:35 am

    It’s so hard to make that last trip to the vet. I had to take my two beloved cats within three months and also within that time my mother passed away. One of the saddest times of my life. So I can totally relate to the way it made you feel. When my little granddaughter lost her adored cat I told her the story of Rainbow Bridge where all our pets play happily until they see us coming … Then they bound over that bridge to be happily reunited with the ones they loved! It certainly gave her some comfort.

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