Mama’s 1949 Lemon Dessert, Cooking with Mama

ShaMama’s Lemon Dessert is one of our favorite memories of childhood. Mama would make this lemon treat for us many times through Spring and Summer. As my sister said, “We LOVED this dessert!” It’s super easy with just a few ingredients. Great for a light dessert.

Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert

Mama’s 1949 Lemon Dessert . . .

Last week, when I visited Mama, I said, “Why don’t we make that Lemon Dessert that you used to make us when we were growing up?” She said, “OK. We can make that.” Since Mama’s fall a couple of years ago, standing in the kitchen cooking has really become a chore, so if we cook, I do most of the standing up. Because this little dessert is special to us, I want to share the history of how Mama got this recipe/ dessert:

When Mama and Daddy got married in 1949, they rented a small two-bedroom house next door to the “Milligans” in Carlisle, Arkansas. The house was new at the time, and they became great neighbors with the Milligans. Mrs. Milligan gave Mama this recipe for Lemon Dessert in 1949, so we call it “Mama’s 1949 Lemon Dessert”. When we were kids, Mama made this dessert for us all the time in the warmer months of Spring and Summer. It was a favorite of ours growing up, and is still a favorite now. Though the little house Mama and Daddy first lived in is now gone, as well as their neighbors, the Milligans, this little dessert lives on in our hearts and minds from our childhood.

Making Mama’s 1949 Lemon Dessert . . .

Mama’s 1949 Lemon Dessert is much easier than you might think.  But, I will say, this recipe has a different twist . . . something that I had never seen or done before . . . whipping evaporated milk! Evidently, according to Mama, whipping cream was costly back then, so they would whip evaporated milk instead. Surprisingly, it does whip!!!! Wow . . . I definitely learned something new when I made this dessert with Mama.

There are a few steps in making Mama’s Lemon Dessert: Make a Graham Cracker Crust, making the Lemon Gelatin mixture, whip the topping mixture, refrigerate, then eat!

Step 1: Make the Graham Cracker Crumb Crust . . .

Mama said she always made her Lemon Dessert in a 9-inch glass baking dish. In fact, the one you see in the picture is one she probably made it in:) You can either start with graham cracker crumbs that you purchase or make your own, as I did. Since Mama lives in a small town with only one grocery store, if that store doesn’t have something you need, you have to improvise. I needed graham cracker crumbs. All they had were graham crackers. So, I made the crumbs the “old-fashioned” way with a zip-top bag and Mama’s rolling pin. Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert, graham cracker crumbs


I packed the crust down with a spoon. I WON’T pack it the next time, because some of the pieces were harder to get out of the pan. Though Mama thought she packed the crust, I remember it as just having a graham cracker bottom that would stick to the filling when remembed from the pan, not packed like a crustMama's 1949 Lemon Dessert, graham cracker crust

Step 2: Making the Lemon Gelatin Filling . . .

The Lemon gelatin filling is just as simple as making Jell-O. Pour the ingredients in a pan, bring to a boil. Set aside to cool. This filling needs to be COOL when the dessert is put together. So, if it isn’t cooling fast enough, you can place it in the refrigerator or the freezer for a short time to cool it off.

Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert, filling

Step 3: Making the Whipped topping . . .

Then comes the “unusual” part . . . pouring evaporated milk in a metal bowl and freezing until it’s frozen about 1-inch around all sides and there are ice crystals in the middle.

Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert, frozen evaporated milk

Did you know that you can “whip” chilled evaporated milk? Whip until peaks hold up and are slightly stiff.

Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert, whipped evaporated milk

Step 4: Putting Mama’s  1949 Lemon Dessert together . . .

When the Lemon Dessert was ready to put together, Mama came to help me. The whipped evaporated milk is folded into the cooled lemon gelatin.

Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert, Mama folding filling into whipped evaporated milk

Then the filling is poured into the prepared graham cracker crust.

Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert, pouring filling into crustThe lemon filling is light and fluffy. And, graham crackers are sprinkled on top:) That’s how we both remembered this dessert.


Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert, with toppingStep 5: Chill, then eat!

We chilled the Lemon Dessert for a couple of hours. We should have kept it in the refrigerator longer, but we wanted to eat a piece before I went home.

Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert, two pieces

It was just as I remembered . . . lemony, luscious, and delicious. My childhood memories came swirling back of the times Mama made her 1949 Lemon Dessert for us growing up. Such sweet memories. And, I’m SO glad I got Mama to help me make it.

I took some of the dessert home because Candace wanted to try it. Here is a picture of her piece. You can see the dessert had set up more before I took it to her house.

What is your favorite Lemon Dessert?

Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert, one piece close up

Mama’s 1949 Lemon Dessert

Shared on Meal Plan Monday, Tasty Tuesdays


5 from 2 votes
Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert
Mama's 1949 Lemon Dessert Recipe
Prep Time
30 mins

Mama made this 1949 Lemon Dessert for us all the time when we were growing up. Such sweet memories of my childhood. The dessert is lemony and luscious. A perfect light dessert for Spring and Summer.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 9 servings
Author: Maribeth
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 (3-ounce) lemon gelatin
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 (12-ounce) evaporated milk (Mama says to use Carnation)
  • 1 graham cracker crumb crust
  1. Mix sugar, lemon gelatin and pineapple juice together in a saucepan.

  2. Bring to a rolling boil. Set aside to cool. 

  3. Pour evaporated milk into a aluminum mixing bowl. Place in freezer to chill until there is a 1-2 inch frozen section around the edge and there are ice crystals in the center.

  4. At this point, check the lemon gelatin mixture. If it is still warm, place in the refrigerator or freezer while you whip the evaporated milk.

  5. Whip chilled evaporated milk until it stands in stiff peak.

  6. Remove gelatin mixture from refrigerator. Fold the whipped evaporated milk into the lemon gelatin mixture.

  7. Pour into the crumb crust. Sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs. Place in refrigerator several hours before serving


  1. Donna K. Emerson says:

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe. It was one of my mother’s “special’ desserts, not something she made all of the time. Her go-to dessert was chess pie and she didn’t even need a recipe! I loved my mother’s version of this. The only thing different is that she added a can of drained crushed pineapple, and chopped pecans and cut up maraschino cherries. I’ve misplaced my recipe, and I’m so happy to have found yours. Wish my mama was still here to make it with me! hugs

    • Maribeth says:

      Thank you so much for letting me know Mama’s Lemon Dessert recipe was one you knew about and needed! It was such a favorite of ours growing up. How did your mother add the pineapple, chopped pecans and maraschino cherries? That sounds divine! I’d love to try it!

  2. Janice Gowens says:

    Lord help us! I grew up in Des Arc, AR (your mama will know where that is) not far from Carlisle. My mama used to make this dessert all the time (after we got a fridge/freezer) and now my 55-year old son has been asking for this dessert. I had lost the recipe–thank you so much for posting this old-timey recipe. My son also thanks you.

    • Maribeth says:

      Wow! Is it a small world or what! I grew up in Hazen. Mama and Daddy moved there when I was in the 2nd grade. I read your comment to Mama this afternoon and told her, “Mama, this is why I want to cook your older recipes with you.” She always says she doesn’t want me to take her picture because she’s 94, and thinks she doesn’t take a “good picture”. But, I want these memories, and with her help, her recipes will work for me. Thank you so much for commenting, and I’m so glad Mama’s recipe was one you needed:)

  3. Carol Lynn says:

    My mom made this exact dessert except she flded drained crushed pineapple into it. I’ Excited to try just the lemon!

    • Maribeth says:

      Thanks for the 5-star rating, Carol! I called Mama earlier, and tomorrow she and I are going to make it again and add crushed pineapple. We are excited to try it with the pineapple! Mama LOVES pineapple, so I’m pretty sure she will like it made with that fruit.Thanks for sharing your story with me:)

  4. Thank you for posting this memory. I am 74 years old and have been searching for my moms jello dessert recipe for 50 years. Thank you.

    • Maribeth says:

      Jan, I’m so glad you found Mama’s recipe on my blog. It was one of our favorite treats growing up:) Evidently it was a popular dessert 50-60 years ago.

  5. Sheila Smith says:

    I grew up in Connecticut, and my Mom made this all of the time with the crushed pineapple. It was my Dad’s favorite. I never had the recipe, but now I know I will be making it. Thanks so much.

    • Maribeth says:

      I’m glad you found my blog and the recipe. I called Mama and told her about the crushed pineapple. Tomorrow, she and I are going to make it again, and add the crushed pineapple! Thanks for sharing your story with me.

  6. kathy olson says:

    This looks divine! I’m printing it out for Easter.

    • Maribeth says:

      Oh that’s good! I just talked to Mama and read to her your comment. She said, “It will be really good for Easter!” (She’s 94:))

  7. Donna K. Emerson says:

    When you add the crushed pineapple, add the chopped pecans and chopped cherries at the same time, and fold them into the gelatin mixture along w the whipped evaporated milk. My mother would occasionally tint the mixture. I recall pale green, or pale pink (I think she used the cherry juice for that). With a dollop of whipped cream or cool whip, she would add a thin slice of line, or a bit of cherry. What memories!

  8. Vickie Overman says:

    This is the exact dessert they used to give us in the elementary school cafeteria 55 years ago. I loved it. I finally found the recipe in an old cookbook my grandmother had and I have made it many times. Funny that I was just talking about it last week and was going to make it this week. Soooooo gooooood!

    • Isn’t it so ingeresting, Vickie, that so many people made this dessert? Wow, and in your elementary school cafeteria! I’ve had Mama’s recipe for many years. She and I looked last week for her original recipe, and couldn’t find it. I’m thankful that at some point she had given it to me. And I agree with you, it is sooooo gooooo!

  9. Sheri Cruzada says:

    I knew this desert at my home in Idaho, we would do lime jello as well. Everyone loved this, and like you my mother is a font of cooking information. I talk to her everyday about recipies and more importantly where she has her favorites placed. She has over 1000 cook books and countless hand written recipes. she is now in a recovery center and no longer able to cook, so I want as much information that she has before she is gone.
    Everyone should ask there moms and grandmothers every chance they can before this art is lost forever.

    • Maribeth says:

      Lime jello sounds yummy to me! Did you make it in a graham cracker crust? And, I agree with you, talk to your mom and be sure to get all her cooking secrets and recipes while you have her. That’s why I asked Mama to make this Lemon Dessert with me. She guided me through all of the steps. Thank you so much for sharing with me about the lime jello and the 5-star rating!

  10. Where I come from, northeastern PA, this was called “Lemon Bisque.” Mother and grandmother made this a lot, for meals at home or to take to potluck suppers. I just looked up the recipe in our old church cookbook.

    • Maribeth says:

      I love that, Ruth! Thanks for sharing your story with me. I called Mama today and read here your comment. She was so pleased and interested that it was such a popular dessert in so many states.

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