Friday, May 22, 2009

My, My -- Key Lime Pie


Every US state boasts an official state flag, motto, flower, bird and song. But, did you know many states have an official dessert? Twas news to me, until I wrote the blog post on Boston Crème Pie and discovered it was the Massachusetts state pie.

So, I got to wondering; does my state, Florida, have an official dessert? Well… my, my—it’s Key Lime Pie. Sure enough, my husband’s favorite sweet. He likes it so much; he requests it instead of traditional birthday cake.

The secret to great taste is using freshly squeezed Key limes. The process is a little tricky because key limes, as compared to typical Persian limes, are small-- smaller than a golf ball. Took 12 of those babies to yield the ½ cup of juice needed for the recipe. But, the result is worth the effort.

Overall pie preparation is very easy; simply mix together a few ingredients. If you cannot find Key limes, you can substitute bottled juice; I prefer Nellie and Joe’s brand. Do not, however, juice Persian limes, the typical bigger green variety; the outcome is just not the same.

For home baked goodness, you should make your own graham cracker crust, but a store bought one works in a pinch. Your final creation should be smooth and creamy, no lumps, like a good pudding. The taste should have some zing, tart and sweet, but not too sweet. A bite of pie should dissolve in your mouth.

The history of the Key limes pie is closely linked with Florida and the development of canned milk. You see, neither cows nor fresh milk, refrigeration or ice were available in the Florida Keys until the 1930’s. When the Overseas Highway opened, tank trucks began delivery. But before that, canned products were brought in by ship, and later train. So, local cooks relied on canned sweetened condensed milk. When this milk is combined with lime juice, the acid from the juice causes the mixture to solidify.

Where did the Floridians get Key limes? From the early Spanish explorers who picked them up in Malaysia and brought them to what was then the New World. The fruit is not indigenous, but the thin-skinned yellow-green citrus thrives in the climate.

Many people swear Key lime pie originated in Key West, the little island resting at the southern-most tip of the United States. Legend, among residents known as Conchs, says the pie was first served by “Aunt Sally,” the cook for William Curry, who made his fortune as a “ship salvager” in the mid-1800s. Today, the staff at the Curry Mansion Inn in Key West still crank out the pies.


I had the opportunity to visit the Curry Mansion Inn while on the island a few years ago. The place is a lovely B & B type lodge, with one terrific widow’s walk. Indeed, I confirm they serve an excellent pie. But, is theirs the best??


I’m very happy with my recipe and offer it now. Heed this one warning, however, if you add the concoction to your repertoire. Never add artificial coloring. As a matter of fact, never eat a green key lime pie. Opt for the real thing. The lemon yellow color comes from authentic key lime juice and egg yolks. And these days for safety, the pie is baked for a few minutes to kill the possibility of salmonella from uncooked egg.


Florida Key Lime Pie

Crust- Graham Cracker Crumb Crust

1 ¼ cup graham cracker crumbs

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup butter

Melt the butter (microwave) in a bowl, then mix in the crumbs and sugar.Pack into a 9-inch pie pan and press firmly to bottom and sides.

Chill for an hour before filling—OR—bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes, then cool.

Pie Ingredients:

4 large of extra large egg yolks

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

½ cup fresh key lime juice

2 teaspoons grated lime peel, green portion only

Pie Filling:

Use an electric mixer and beat the egg yolks until they are thick and turn a light yellow color. Do not overmix. Turn the mixer off and add the sweetened condensed milk. Stir it in by hand, a few strokes. Turn mixer speed to low and add half the lime juice. Once incorporated, add the other half of the juice and the sex. Mix just a few seconds until blended.


Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. This kills any salmonella in the eggs. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

Some folks like to add meringue topping; others choose to top with whipped cream. I prefer to serve mine plain and pass whipped cream.

An interesting footnote: The hurricane in 1926 wiped out the key lime plantations in South Florida. Eventually growers replanted with Persian limes because they are easier to pick and transport and yield more juice. But in Key West, the lime trees that remained are said to be “ferocious” in nature.