Cue Margaritaville for some Florida Keys’ mood music.
A recent trip to the Florida Keys jolted me in summer mode and in the mood for some coastal, comfort food. Key Islamorada was the tropical, oceanside site of the wedding of CJ and Casey McLaughlin. Food, fun, family and, of course, the traditional Key Lime Pie, made only from Florida Key Limes. In fact, along with the rum wedding cake, came a slice of Key Lime Pie. Sometimes I just have to act like a guest and not photograph every piece of food I eat. Besides, there was no tearing me away from that pie.
Mom never minced words and only spoke when she knew she was right:
“Real Key Lime Pie is yellow, not green.”
With that in mind, come along on the journey.
The FLA-KEY Croissant — Look for Betsey, the Giant Lobster Outside the Place
Located at the Rain Barrell, Mile Marker 86.7, this artsy spot served up an authentic version of Key Lime Pie. Just as you would expect, it’s a little funky place with Yvonne at the counter. The filling was yellow and with two approved variations—a flaky flour dough crust and a meringue topping (instead of a graham cracker crust and a whipped cream topping). It was good— tangy and authentic. Stop by to meet Yvonne. She will even put on the glasses for you. She used to be a real estate agent and threw away her computer and is enjoying a more mellow lifestyle serving up coffee and Key Lime Pie.
Back Home on the Search
Our plane landed back home from south Florida at 4:30 p.m. By 5:30 p.m., I was on the hunt for Key Limes in Northern Virginia markets. Trader Joe’s usually carries them, but not today. Whole Foods, not today. But, of all places, the local Safeway! The produce manager pointed me to two lone packages of Key Limes. The exchange went like this:
“They look a little decrepit,” he said.
I said: “I’ll take them! I’m so excited!”
To which he replied, “You could sing that song if you want to.” (I moved on fast.)
They did look decrepit but their insides were as juicy as ever. In the meantime, I had my childhood friend and food photographer, Cassandra Birocco, looking for Key Limes in Rhode Island so she could take a photo for this article.
She said, “We can just use limes, no one will know the difference!” (She is originally from Western Pennsylvania so how would she know?) After a swift scolding from me, she got the message and found Key Limes in Rhode Island! Thus, the stunning photo at the top of this page.
Blasphemy on Google
Next, I Googled to see what images came up for Key Limes and Key Lime Pie just in case Cass couldn’t find any and my decrepit-looking ones didn’t photograph well. I also looked into recipes to taste test to see if any could compare (or be more authentic) than mom’s pie.
Shock and awe is all I can say to describe what I found next:
- Regular limes being passed off as Key Limes!
- A supposed Key Lime Pie decorated on top with kiwi fruit! Kiwi fruit? Okay, really? Pity the poor folks who buy into this myth. I’m still in shock. (I always tell the kids not to believe what they see on the Internet.)
- Even a well-known Food Network chef (Emeril) said to use Key Limes or limes.
And, from Parade Magazine: “Key Limes may no longer be the, uh, key to this treat, but condensed milk remains so.”
How can they say Key Limes may not be the “key” to this treat? I was getting madder by the minute. Lazy cooks.
Go to the Extra Mile Marker
If you are making a Key Lime Pie, then make it authentic. Go to the trouble of finding the Key Limes, and make a real Key Lime Pie. Imagine this scene:
Your guests: “Is this pie made from real Key Limes?
You: “Uh, no, but it is made from limes….”
Why not say “Yes! Of course, it’s made from Florida Key Limes.”
I say go to the trouble, find the Key Limes, and make a traditional Florida Key Lime Pie. If you do anything less, it becomes fraud.
On the Thanksgiving Dessert Menu
This Thanksgiving, I’m adding Key Lime Pie to the dessert offerings along with Pecan Pie and Pumpkin Cheese Roll. If I can’t find the Key Limes by next week, I’ll scratch the Key Lime Pie.
Recipe testing and searching brought me back to my mom’s recipe—authentic, best taste and easy to make. She used to make her pies from the Key Limes from the tree we gave her for Christmas one year (Circa 1977).
Recipe: Best Key Lime Pie
By Mom (Lois Garneau)
Because the Florida Keys had no refrigeration until the Overseas Highway opened in 1938, bakers had to use canned milk, so sweetened condensed milk became an essential element of Florida’s state pie.
Make a graham cracker crust in a 9-inch pie pan. Use crushed graham crackers and follow the recipe on the box. If your pie plate is large, increase the recipe by half. Cool crust before filling it.
For the filling, mix:
- 1 can (14 oz.) Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
- 1/3 cup Key Lime juice (use a citrus reamer to extract the juice) Or, use Nellie and Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice, found in some grocery or specialty stores.
- 2 egg whites beaten until thick, fold into the above
Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Serve with whipped cream or meringue topping.
Use the Key Lime rinds for decoration.