July 11, 2013
Tart, sweet and rich - a compliment to a seafood meal.
The classic key lime pie, with graham cracker crust and a tangy zing.
Before Hemingway and the “Conch Republic,” Key West thrived as one of Florida's major seaports. There was no Overseas Highway and locals relied on foodstuffs supplied by sea. Fresh milk was at a premium and it was soon discovered, likely by far-ranging sponge fishermen, that the very sour juice of the key lime would successfully “cook” a mixture of sweet canned milk and egg yolks. The result was a firm, tart pie filling that everyone finds the perfect finale to almost any meal involving seafood. Key lime pie is so popular, in fact, that it's been the “official pie” of the State of Florida since 2006.
No doubt this dessert's popularity has grown with the increased availability of key lime juice. Once picked, this fruit doesn't keep well and the tree stock isn't hardy, making it difficult to grow much north of Tampa Bay. Now, key lime juice is available, bottled, in major supermarkets, and it's even possible to grow the hybrid limequat well into northern parts of the state. Limequats, a cross between the original key lime and the round kumquat, are yellow and sour enough to do the cooking needed for a pie. Only key limes and limequats have this capability. Green Persian limes just don't have enough acid, and besides, key lime pie filing is supposed to be yellow. If you're served a slice of pie with a green filling, beware.
The big key lime pie “argument” in many cooking circles involves the topping. Everyone seems to agree that the proper (and traditional) crust should
be made with graham cracker crumbs, but some folks endorse topping with meringue, made with the leftover egg whites, and others, whipped cream. I find that the pies found in supermarkets (Publix makes a darn fine version of key lime pie!) and restaurants are often served with whipped cream. At home, I'll opt for meringue, but have never turned down a slice because of the topping. - FS
First Published Florida Sportsman April 2013