Key Lime Pie

Up and down the Keys voices are raised, forks are waved and opinions are shouted as the debate rages on. This is an issue of major importance down here. The issue, the correct topping for Key Lime Pie, meringue or whipped cream. Key lime pie is to the Florida Keys what tea is to the English, or what pasta is to the Italians. Everybody has an opinion.

Although key limes are no longer grown commercially in Florida that hasn’t decreased the popularity of Key Lime Pie. Newfangled twists on the traditional pie are popping up, like the frozen pie slice on a stick, the chocolate covered key lime pie or key lime pie ice cream. Nothing defines your stay in the Keys like a big forkful of sweet tart gooey key lime pie with a blob of whipped cream. [Sailorgirl is of the opinion that meringue is sacrilege. Don’t even go there.]

(this is the educational part) So what is a key lime you ask?

Well, let me enlighten you. Limes (Citrus aurantifolia) are the fruit of tropical citrus tree closely related to lemons. This evergreen tree is in the Rue family, Rutaceae, which also includes citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and kumquats. Limes are native to Southeast Asia, and probably originated in Indonesia or Malaysia. They made their way to the eastern Mediterranean with the Arabs, and to the western Mediterranean, with returning Crusaders, and eventually to the West Indies, when Columbus introduced citrus fruits there on his second voyage. These limes, used in most of the world, are what we call Key Limes.

The large, green, seedless limes found in your supermarket is the Persian or Tahiti Lime (Citrus latifolia) a hybrid developed in the early 20th century. The fruit is larger than the Key Lime, more resistant to disease and pests, and has a thicker rind. Key limes are smaller (about the size of a golf ball) and rounder, yellower in colour, seedy, more acidic, and grow on thorny trees which are sensitive to cold weather. Key limes were grown commercially in southern Florida and the Florida keys, until the 1926 hurricane wiped out the citrus groves. The growers replaced the Key Lime trees with Persian Lime trees because they are easier to grow, easier to pick because they have no thorns, and due to the much thicker skin, are easier and more economical to ship. There are still many Key Lime trees throughout the Florida Keys in backyards however, commercial production is only on a very small scale. Key lime juice is readily available in bottles and frankly, it’s a lot easier to open a bottle than squeeze a dozen limes.

OK, now that you’re enlightened, let’s eat.

Key Lime Pie


3 large or extra large egg yolks
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh key lime juice (approximately 12 Key limes)
Whipping cream for garnish (optional)


1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter crust

Crust: Mix the crust ingredients together and chill for 30 minutes.

Filling: Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the condensed milk and the key lime juice. Mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake at 350F for 12 minutes to set.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream. Servings: 8

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