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Photo by Matthew Holler

A smooth and creamy, sweet-tart celebration of citrus and sunshine, Key lime pie is a staple of local menus and our official state pie, too. But what’s the “right” way to make one? That can spark a fierce debate. First there’s the crust. Do you use standard pastry pie crust or the crumbled graham cracker concoction? Second, the topping. Meringue, whipped cream or nothing at all? Recipes—and opinions—vary widely, but although we’re pretty sure Key lime pies should be made with graham cracker crust and topped with meringue, we don’t want to fight about it.

Aunt Sally’s Legacy

Florida lore has it that the Key lime pie was created (or at least perfected) by “Aunt Sally,” a cook for millionaire William Curry, who imported sweetened condensed milk to Key West in the mid-19th century.

Key Limes are Key

The small, yellow limes give the pie a more complex, floral flavor than the standard Persian limes you find in the grocery store. Prepare to squeeze quite a few to get enough juice for a pie.

Say Yes to Yellow

Key lime juice is slightly yellow, so the pie’s filling, which also features egg yolks, should be a pale custard color. True Floridians denounce green pies, which get their hue from food coloring.

Credit the Fishermen

Historians say the first Key lime pies were made by sponge fishermen, who combined plentiful Key limes with new nonperishable sweetened condensed milk (first mass-produced in 1853) and eggs.

Make It Yourself

A basic recipe for the filling uses three egg yolks, one 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk and half a cup of Key lime juice (or more for tartness). Beat the eggs until fluffy, mix in the milk, then slowly mix in the lime juice. Pour into the crust of your choosing and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve cold.

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