Key Lime Pie
November 30, 2007 6:22 AM   Subscribe

With few cows, no ice, and lacking refrigeration the only dairy product reliably available to the Florida Keys in the late 18th century was condensed milk. Add a local plantation abundance of small, sour key limes (known to most as West Indian limes; not the more common Persian/Tahiti lime), and inevitably someone -- perhaps Aunt Sally -- put them together to create the quintessential Florida Keys confection known as key lime pie.

Tart, sweet, and oh so smooth, it is the ideal dessert to nibble on while watching the sun go down on a steamy summer evening. While the Eagle Brand can recipe is canonical (thank you, Ms. Borden), a multitude of variations exist such as cheesecake, tarts, cookies and ... mustard? And note that no matter how you take your pie, there's something aficionados all agree upon: the true pie is pale yellow, never ever green.

Finally, note that this is not Key Lime Pie, although that, also, is very tasty.
posted by seanmpuckett (33 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Whoa whoa whoa. Why wouldn't 18th century Florida have had cows? This is unacCOWntably blowing my mind, for reals. SoCal has a huge dairy industry, so it isn't a climate thing. Gator chow, or what?

And what about Mexico? Where did all these meat-based taco-type dishes come from? Would Mexican peasants really have been that profligate with their animals? Maybe meat-based tacos are a recent invention.
posted by DU at 6:28 AM on November 30, 2007

DU - the Keys are not Florida at large, as any Concher would beat you about the head and shoulders for suggesting. They're smallish islands just a foot or two above sea level with thicket-dense tropical foliage -- or sand beaches. Not much to graze on. Boats were small, and there wasn't much reason to bring herd animals ashore. Most residents of that time were fort soldiers or fishermen, not ranchers or farmers.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:36 AM on November 30, 2007

You know what goes well with key lime pie? Sweet iced tea with lemon.

I recommend the next time you are sitting on a porch, in a back yard, during a humid Southern summer that you have a large slice of key lime pie with a tall glass of sweet tea, with lemon.

The citrus cuts through the sweetness in this manner that allows you to reach a sort of sugar high nirvana during which you can peacefully sit back and count lightning bugs until it gets really dark outside.

/missing summer in NC while getting ready to trudge to work in the rain in OR
posted by device55 at 6:37 AM on November 30, 2007

Thanks for the 'titles' I wouldn't have known what I was clicking on otherwise. Pray tell… post impetus?
posted by tellurian at 6:40 AM on November 30, 2007

The recipe on the bottle of Nellie and Joe's key Lime Juice has always been my favorite.
posted by COD at 6:43 AM on November 30, 2007

posted by caddis at 6:51 AM on November 30, 2007

OIC. Still, though....cows. I think I'm just panicking at the thought of life without cheese.
posted by DU at 6:53 AM on November 30, 2007

I think that would be "late 19th century," not "late 18th century."
posted by texorama at 6:57 AM on November 30, 2007

Personally, although the bottled stuff will do in a pinch, I think it's worth taking half the afternoon (especially if there's a kid handy to inflict this one) to squeeze the key limes individually to get the juice.
posted by texorama at 7:01 AM on November 30, 2007

When I moved to Florida as a teen, I quickly decided that the South's two greatest culinary contributions are Key Lime Pie and Pecan Pie. I had encountered neither prior to that.

posted by lordrunningclam at 7:01 AM on November 30, 2007

Textorama: yeah, should be 19th century. 1850s, etc. Whoops.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:06 AM on November 30, 2007

Yesterday it was tamales, now key lime pie for dessert: excellent!
posted by TedW at 7:23 AM on November 30, 2007

I once bit into a good-looking slice of key lime pie at a family gathering (green, with whipped cream on top). As I chewed, confusion turned to disgust and I ran to the bathroom to spit it out. My brother was already there doing the same. It turns out my cousin had made an avocado pie.
posted by Killick at 7:31 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Flagged as delicious.
posted by emelenjr at 7:42 AM on November 30, 2007

Flagged as delicious.
posted by emelenjr at 7:42 AM on November 30, 2007

posted by emelenjr at 7:42 AM on November 30, 2007

My mother in law in Boca had a key lime tree in the parking lot where she used to work. Every now and again, up in Boston, we'd get a package full of key limes. No note, but my wife knew what to do.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:44 AM on November 30, 2007

"It turns out my cousin had made an avocado pie."

Super punchline, Killick.

(It is a slightly nervous act of faith to try a key lime pie for the first time if you're not American. The snot look of it, I guess. And it doesn't look sweet. So I'd be a bathroom bolter too if I then got a dubious mouthful of avocado surprise. But I now think it's sublime.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:06 AM on November 30, 2007

Oh to have anywhere in London that would bake me a decent Key Lime Pie... (sigh)

Lemon torte just isn't the same.
posted by Molesome at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2007

Gotta put in a plug for Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shop because he's a family friend. The frozen key lime pie on a stick (dipped in chocolate, of course) is ridiculously wonderful. Here's his recipe for key lime pie.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:30 AM on November 30, 2007

There really isn't much better than a kiggass key lime pie.

Thanks, sean!
posted by BobFrapples at 8:45 AM on November 30, 2007

Key lime pie is pure bliss. And so easy to make, too.
posted by Melinika at 8:55 AM on November 30, 2007

19th century. Canned milk was invented by an America in the 1850s; it was used by the Union as a field ration during the Civil War which spread its popularity.
posted by stbalbach at 8:56 AM on November 30, 2007

I just made a key lime pie yesterday (squeezed the real limes, used a pre-made crust though). It truly is the king of pies.
posted by grandsham at 9:52 AM on November 30, 2007

I think this post is great, and doubly awesome owing to its genesis. Way to go seanmpuckett!
posted by Mister_A at 10:27 AM on November 30, 2007

Oh man, that takes me back. I grew up in KW with my mom supplying KLPies to the local eateries. Even better then KLP though is replacing the Limes with Kumquats or Calamondins. They have a higher acid content. oh and you MUST use a Gram Cracker Crust.
If you want to get really daring, you can give KL pancakes a try. replace the milk with a nice acidy juice and adjust the baking soda mix accordingly. crazy batter
posted by RumorControl at 10:51 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

man, i love key lime pie. i've only had a couple in my life though.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:50 PM on November 30, 2007

Funky post, seanmpucket. When you are in Key West, there are two places to go for actually spectacular Key Lime pie.

Alice's and Blue Heaven.

Alice's pie is pictured here. It is one of the most best desserts I think I have ever had. Eating it is like touching heaven. (Incidentally, it's not even Alice's specialty. Crazily enough, Alice is one of the eight chefs who were invited to NYC to make dessert for Julia Child's 80th birthday, the result being Alice's signature dessert: Tropical fruit shortcake. Just so you know.)

Blue Heaven's pie is pictured here.
posted by humannaire at 9:30 PM on November 30, 2007

Blue Heaven's is pictured here.

Blue Heaven is famous for many things. It's a place where chickens, cats, and roosters run free. It is a place where the pancakes are made with the special ingredient of BUD beer. It is a place that magically transforms to fine dining with some of the most delicious seafood, caribbean, and vegetarian cuisine ever made is served nightly. And in their on-site bakery, they make what a genuinely great key lime pie.

I hope you all get to make it here. It's where I summer and occasionally winter. And I am writing from at this very moment, on the corner of Caroline and Whitehead Streets.

And in the past week, since Thanksgiving, I have had four enourmous slices of homemade key lime pie.
posted by humannaire at 9:37 PM on November 30, 2007

PS. One thing seanmpuckett, you are mistaken about the cows and the Florida Keys. We have had cows and livestock here since at least the 1700s. In fact, the Island that is just above Key West is named after it: Stock Island.

And one lime you forgot, which can be found all over the Island still is the Spanish lime, which you buy off kids in the summer who collect and sell them for 5-to-10 for a buck. Then you just peel them and pop the whole thing in your mouth, spitting out the single enormous pit. (And careful not to get the juice on your clothes; it stains).

Otherwise, tasty post!
posted by humannaire at 9:42 PM on November 30, 2007

Oh, and one other thing. We are not called "conchers." None of us, and not ever that I ever heard my entire life.

We are Conchs. Rhymes with bonks. After the popular sea snail with same name.

And if you happen to be on our Island this December 31st, after getting your fill of key lime pie, be sure and catch the New Years Eve Big Conch Drop from the roof of Sloppy Joe's at the corner of Duval and Greene.
posted by humannaire at 9:54 PM on November 30, 2007

Humannaire -- thanks for an excellent followup. I learned some things. I lived in Homestead from 1977 to 1988 and spent plenty of time in the keys. My favorite pie came from the Green Turtle Inn, although Lee's held a close second (perhaps because he was more accessible and thus somehow mundaner -- also, the Green Turtle had a raw bar and there ain't much finer followup to the raw bar than pie). Thanks again.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:13 AM on December 1, 2007

Green Turtle Inn? New owners, but it's still there waiting for you.

And speaking of Lee (different Lee), you know you can get fresh South Florida key limes shipped directly to your home, right? Straight from (Old Florida) Robert Is Here's!
posted by humannaire at 3:57 PM on December 1, 2007

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