A lemon cake. That’s what I want. Something to replicate the Lemonheads from the snack bar at the drive-in movie theater. The sour pucker is perfect for the late summer heat. You could say I am fond of lemon. I always have been a borderline addict.
Sunday is family night and we are going to the drive-in again. We will make a picnic of it this time. I pack the 4Runner with food, sleeping bags, a couple of pillows, some lawn chairs, and bug spray. It isn’t a long drive to Mechanicsburg, over one state highway and up another. Other than the Welcome to Mechanicsburg sign, the drive-in theater is the only indication that you’re in a town. All the times I’ve been here, I’m still never sure whether there was ever anything more than the drive-in and one lonesome farmhouse. It’s all surrounded by cornfields — always cornfields.
There are ten or more minivans parked on the gravel road leading to the drive-in and everyone is waiting single file at the tollbooth-style gate. It’s always at this moment, waiting to get in, my elbow resting on the open window of the door, the sting of the hot sun on my already sunburned arm, that I look up at the two story, paneled movie screen and silently reminisce.
I remember the brightly colored muscle cars of the kids whose parents indulged them. My friends and I would wander the lot with sodas in to-go cups full of crushed ice spiked with Old Crow whiskey and bum cigarettes from each other. The noise of the B movies or horror flicks was background color to our youthful attempts at manhood. No one ever watched the movie; mostly we walked around, flirted with girls, and waited for a fight to break out because a fight always broke out.
The line starts to move and inside we follow the other cars, back in to our space, open the hatchback, and get comfortable. The scene could have come from the set of The Bevery Hillbillies: a red pickup truck with a bed full of people sitting in lawn chairs. Kids start playing tag, soccer, and Frisbee in the grass in front of the screen, passing away the time until it’s dark enough and the movie begins.
I set the cooler, which will also be our table, on the grass. The girls are off to look for their friends. Amy unfolds the chairs and we settle in for dinner and a movie. The herb roasted chicken legs, the potato salad, and the slaw are as good as always. Just as the movie starts I get out the pieces of lemon cake. It’s the real star of the show.
Serves 9 to 12
- 13 1/8-inch lemon slices, seeds gently removed
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- strips of zest from 2 lemons
- 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour Mix
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons candied zest, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter, each gently melted in its own bowl and kept warm, plus more for greasing the pan
- 3 tablespoons powdered dry milk
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 3/4 cups whole milk, warm
- 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 8 ounces powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- Pour the sugar into a saute pan large enough to hold the lemons in a single layer. Place the lemons and zest in a single layer on top and then add the water. Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer.
- Simmer the lemon slices until the sugar syrup has reduced by half or more and the pith and rind of the lemon appear transparent. Carefully remove the slices and zest to a piece of parchment being sure not to let the pieces overlap. Let them cool.
- Grease a quarter size sheet tray (9 x 13 inches) with butter. To make the cake heat the oven to 375 ˚ F. Combine the flour, dry milk powder, sugar, xanthan gum, baking soda, minced candied zest, and salt. Combine half the melted butter with the eggs, milk, and extracts. While whisking add the dry to the wet ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared sheet tray. Make sure the batter is evenly distributed so it rises evenly. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- While the cake is baking, make the icing. Combine the powdered sugar, cream, and remainder of the warm butter in a mixing bowl. Whisk until smooth. Keep the icing luke warm.
- When the cake has finished baking remove it from the oven and let it cool right in the sheet pan for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off pour the warm icing over the top and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Lay on the slices of lemon and let the cake cool. Refrigerate or serve cold.
3 thoughts on “A Drive-in Movie and Candied Lemon Sheet Cake”
Great narrative…takes me WAY back. Thanks, Tom.
Jim, I bet you might have even cruised a Steak and Shake or two.
This sounds great, but the drive-in movies brought back some memories. “The Shaggy Dog” was my first that is going back a few years. Thanks for the memories……