Key Lime Pie is one thing that many of us think of when we’re imagining a cool, creamy, classic summer dessert. But how did Key Lime Pie come to be? Furthermore, is there any way to take this summertime classic to a whole new level? Come and squeeze a few limes with us as we check out the history of Key Lime Pie, as well as a few new variations on this oldie but goodie.
The History of Key Lime Pie
Key Lime Pie is long thought to have originated in Key West in Florida, where their key limes are the component that makes the pie what it is. Key limes have a particular tartness to them, which results in this famous pie’s renowned taste.
First, let’s talk a bit more about key limes. Key limes, also known as Mexican or West Indian limes, are more yellow in color than they are green, looking like a cross between a lemon and a faded lime. Key limes are native to Malaysia, but likely travelled over to the Florida Keys sometime during the 1500s along with Spanish explorers. However, tragedy struck when a hurricane hit in 1926 that destroyed the South Florida key lime plantations. When this happened, they were replaced with Persian limes, which are much easier to pick and move than key limes are. Nowadays, finding key limes in the Keys is pretty much a thing of the past, with very few remaining trees in the area. As a matter of fact, any remaining key lime trees within the Keys have only been found in the private yards of residents, and the limes never leave the Keys. But the good news is that there are key limes grown in Miami in order to be used commercially.
The filling of a Key Lime Pie is never to be an exaggerated green by any means, but rather a light yellow in color – you definitely do not add green food coloring to it! Traditionally, Key Lime Pie filling is made from key limes, sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolks.
There is no documented record of the first true Key Lime Pie that was created; there are only tales and theories of the first creation of this creamy dessert. The first theory is that it was created in the 1800s by a woman simply known as Aunt Sally. Ship salvager and self-made millionaire William Curry of Florida, who lived from 1821 to 1896, had a cook, and she was known only as Aunt Sally. The legend goes that Aunt Sally concocted the Key Lime Pie by using a Lemon Ice Box Pie recipe that she had, but rather than using lemons, she used locally available key limes instead.
However, it’s also said that Aunt Sally didn’t create the Key Lime Pie, but rather may have just perfected a recipe which was shared by fishermen. This is where our second theory comes in, which is that the pie was originally created by sponge fishermen of Key West. At this time, sponge fishing was a thriving new business venture, and these fishermen would be out at sea for long lengths of time, meaning that the food rations on these boats were few and far between. Fishermen began to use these rations, which included things like canned milk, sugar, eggs, crackers, buts, and citrus fruit, to create a cool and creamy tart pie that would carry these men through their trips. Word spread to all of the fishermen of the area about this delicacy, and it became an important part of these fishing trips. Perhaps Aunt Sally had heard these tales of this pie and decided to try it for herself?
Next, we travel to the 1930s; everyone in the area just knew how to make the pie, as there was no written recipe at this time. There weren’t any refrigerators, fresh milk, or ice available to the Keys until the Overseas Highway opened in 1930. Because of this, Key Lime Pie was made with canned sweetened condensed milk, which was invented by Gail Borden in the year 1956. Even though the key limes are what make the Key Lime Pie, it’s the sweetened condensed milk that gives the pie its creamy, smooth texture.
Floridians are sensitive when it comes to Key Lime Pie, which is more than understandable, because a Key Lime Pie made with anything except key limes is regarded as a farce. This was proven in point in 1965 when Bernie Papy, Jr., a Florida State Representative, tried to implement legislation that would issue a $100 fine to anyone that advertised a Key Lime Pie that was not made with authentic key limes. This bit of legislation didn’t pass, but it proves just how seriously Floridians feel about their beloved Key Lime Pie.
After a long road and much debate as to who concocted the original Key Lime Pie, the delicious dessert became an important symbol of the state of Florida in 1994, then went on to become the Official State Pie on July 1st, 2006.
Key Lime Pie Variations
If you love Key Lime Pie as much as we do, but you want to try something a little bit different, we’ve gathered a few different things you can try to revamp this yummy classic to suit your fancy.
No matter whether you prefer a graham cracker crust or a pastry crust for your Key Lime Pie, try browning your butter before mixing it in. Browned butter will give you a more fragrant and nutty crust, thus enhancing your entire pie without much effort.
To brown butter, all you have to do is heat it in a small saucepan over medium heat until it melts and the surface begins to foam. When this happens, the milk solids from the butter are sinking to the bottom of the pan and begin to brown. You’ll know the process is finished when the butter begins to smell nutty and when you see golden browned solids. You’ll want to immediately remove it from the heat and pour it into a heat-proof bowl to ensure that it doesn’t overheat.
Key Lime Pie Dip
Turn your Key Lime Pie inside out by making the filling into a fun dip instead. This cool, creamy dip is perfect for dipping graham crackers, or even shortbread cookies! Try this as a fun way to expand on your love for Key Lime Pie!
Add Nuts to Your Crust
It doesn’t matter whether you’re making a graham cracker crust or a pastry crust for your pie; send some nuts through your food processor and add into your crust mix to crank up the flavor and fun! Macadamia nuts and hazelnuts are great choices to do this with.
Try Cookies for Your Crust
Instead of your usual graham cracker crust, why not try different kinds of cookies that complement the cool, tangy filling. Speculoos cookies, made by Biscoff, are a great alternative to your usual graham crackers.
Enjoy Your Key Lime Pie!
No matter how you make your Key Lime Pie, we hope that you enjoy it, and that you’ve enjoyed taking a look at its storied history, as well as some fun alternatives to try!