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How I hoped I could always relyon Nora Ephron's wit

Jan Hearne • Jul 2, 2012 at 9:07 AM

Note: I loved Nora Ephron’s writing and her films and was saddened to learn of her death last week. As we all take things for granted, I assumed I would be able to rely on Ephron’s sharp wit to pull me into and through old age. In her memory, I am reprinting a slightly edited food column I wrote in 2004, complete with her recipe for Key Lime Pie.

I came across a copy of Nora Ephron’s “Heartburn,” at a used book store Saturday, bought it for a dollar and read it that afternoon — it’s a short book.

In 1983, when “Heartburn” first came out, it was the book my friends Beth and Teresa and I talked and laughed about for months.

A fictionalized retelling of the breakup of Ephron’s marriage to Washington Post writer Carl Bernstein, “Heartburn” is marked by the same wry humor that made Ephron’s “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle” so popular.

Finding that book brought to mind a summer day in ’83. Beth recently had married and invited Teresa and me to her house for lunch. Except for Beth’s fruit salad with poppy seed dressing, the menu doesn’t come back to me. She’s a great cook, so I’m sure it was delicious. After lunch, we sat in chairs under the trees, drank iced tea and talked.

Teresa read to us from Ephron’s book. Throughout the years, Teresa has read at our little parties, anxious to share the work of an author she’s found. She has a beautiful, expressive voice.

Lying under Beth’s chair, was her new dog, a little female Heinz 57 in need of a name. We, the young feminists of McMinn and Meigs counties, were on the verge of starting a NOW chapter, and the names we tossed back and forth were those of women associated with the movement. None of them seemed to suit the brown-and-black pup.

Finally, someone said, “Nora, how about Nora?” And Nora it was.

That sweet little dog kept the book alive for us long after our interest in it had dwindled, and the memory of that day is a treasure.

Never, ever did I think my life would parallel “Heartburn’s” main character Rachel Samstat’s in any way. I was director of a county history museum; I left the cooking to my more accomplished friends like Beth and Teresa; and the writing I did consisted of unpublished short stories and letters to my sister.

Re-reading the book Saturday, I laughed to discover I had unconsciously adapted Samstat’s approach in writing this food column: “I write ... about friends or relatives or trips or experiences, and work in the recipes peripherally,” Samstat says of her work.

I adapted her approach, but her cleverness eludes me.

Here is Samstat’s recipe for Key Lime Pie, a main ingredient in one of the book’s most memorable scenes:


9-inch graham cracker crust

6 egg yolks

1 cup lime juice (even bottled will do)

2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk

1 tablespoons grated lime rind

Whipped cream

Beat egg yolks and add lime juice, condensed milk and grated lime rind. Pour into the pie shell and freeze. Remove from freezer and spread with whipped cream. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Jan Hearne is Johnson City Press Tempo editor. Reach her at jhearne@johnsoncitypress.com

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