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'Stress cannot exist in the presence of pie'

Each year as November rolls around, you may hear collective sighs coming from the heart of the Midwest. Harvest is over, the crops are put up, and I'm thankful for another year spent on the farm with my family. Agriculture is woven into the fabri...

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Lemon chess pie is a perfect ending to a rich holiday meal (Cristen Clark/Special to Agweek)

Each year as November rolls around, you may hear collective sighs coming from the heart of the Midwest. Harvest is over, the crops are put up, and I'm thankful for another year spent on the farm with my family. Agriculture is woven into the fabric of my life in many ways, all of which I appreciate more than I ever knew I would. I'm thankful for agriculture as a daughter, wife, mother, businesswoman and friend. I don't know what on earth I'd be doing if it weren't for the role agriculture has in my life.

As a daughter, I've been able to work alongside my parents and learn from them by watching them work, not by words only. When generations work alongside each other, it can be a beautiful (and oftentimes frustrating) experience. I've learned to never take for granted the people who farmed the land and cooked family meals generations before me on the same farm and in the same kitchen in the house I was raised in.

As a wife and mother, I've realized that the industry can really provide for those who work hard enough. In farming and life, there are good years and bad, but it is always worth seeing it through if it's something you believe in. I've also learned there are valuable lessons my children will learn in the barn and in the field that would never be afforded to them on a basketball court or in their public school classroom. Some lessons are tough and frustrating, and some are inspiring and breathtaking. As usual in this lifestyle, we take the good with the bad.

As a businesswoman, I've been so incredibly thankful for the caliber of people who regularly impact my life. It is a blessing to work for people who really do care about your family, your farm and your livelihood. We've got the finest people in the world working on our behalf, growing the food, fiber and fuel that we do not, and others representing the very industries that keep bread on our table and clothes on our backs.

Good friends are like a good pie recipe - irreplaceable. The people I'm so fortunate to call friends make me most thankful for agriculture. They ease my mind, ask about my family and are there when I need them. These are the people I want to gather around and share a slice of homemade pie. Because as David Mamet says: "Stress cannot exist in the presence of pie."
If you find yourself harried around the holidays, grab a slice of this old-fashioned Lemon Chess Pie. It is my absolute favorite ending to a rich holiday meal. It is a slice of sunshine that will cut through the winter freeze and bring sunshine to your table.

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Lemon Chess Pie

Makes 1 standard-sized pie

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 ⅔ cups of granulated sugar

1 tablespoon stone-ground yellow cornmeal

1 ½ tablespoons flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

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5 large eggs

⅔ cup heavy cream

½ cup fresh lemon juice (from about 3 small lemons)

3 tablespoons fresh orange juice

½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 - 9 or 10 inch pre-baked pie shell, cooled.

• Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 F.

• Place the pre-baked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet.

• In large bowl, rub zest of lemon and sugar together to perfume the sugar with the oils of the zest. Then stir in the cornmeal, flour and salt. Stir in the melted butter, then the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Mix briskly until the filling is thick and light colored. Stir in the heavy cream, followed by the lemon juice, orange juice and vanilla extract.

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• Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the pie shell, or strain it into a separate bowl and then pour it into the shell. (This makes an abundant amount of filling for my typical 9 inch pie plates, so I pour the excess in a ramekin and eat it for a decadent dessert later!)

• Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking.

• The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still wobbles slightly; it should be lightly golden on top.

• Be careful not to overbake or the custard can separate; the filling will continue to cook and set as it cools. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 3 to 4 hours.

*Optional: sprinkle powdered sugar over the cooled pie or garnish with freshly whipped cream

The pie will keep refrigerated for two to three days and at room temperature for one to two days.

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Cristen Clark, Special to Agweek

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