Florida Keys' famous pie offers taste of sunshine
By Coralie Carlson
By Coralie Carlson
Although the limes aren't grown in the Florida Keys anymore — Hurricane Andrew and the citrus canker bacterial disease saw to that — Key Lime pie is inextricably identified with sunny Florida.
And though citizens there might not feel much like celebrating right now, as they repair damage from Hurricane Wilma, the dessert is something to be proud of.
Two inches of cloud-like meringue sit on top of a tart, key lime-infused custard and a buttery graham cracker crust.
It looks like a slice of pie — but it tastes like sunshine.
Traditional key lime pie has a graham cracker crust and a custard that's yellow, not green, made of key lime juice, eggs and sweetened condensed milk. It can be topped with whipped cream or meringue.
But there are variations. At the Islamorada Fish Co. in the Keys, which sells about 70 pies a week, the pie is made of a whipped filling that's less tart.
The upscale Louie's Backyard in Key West makes its pie with a gingersnap crust and garnished with berries and has been doing so for 20 years
Though a few Florida key lime groves remain in Homestead, south of Miami, the pies are made today with bottled juice from Mexico or South America.
The pies are believed to originate in Key West, with the first likely made sometime after the Civil War, when canned sweetened condensed milk became popular. No one knows for sure how the delectable desert got its start, Monroe County historian Tom Hambright said, but legends abound.
One theory is that key lime pie was first served to William Curry, the wrecker and Key West millionaire, in the late 1800s.
Hambright hypothesized that Curry's cook could have gotten the recipe from spongers, who lived on boats when they collected live sponges from the sea. They would take condensed milk on the boats to have something sweet that wouldn't spoil, Hambright said, and would likely have key limes and eggs on hand.
The pies gained popularity because they didn't need to be cooked — the acid in lime juice actually "cooks" the filling — so women in the Keys didn't have to heat up their kitchen in the hot summer months, when limes were most plentiful. (Now pies are cooked to prevent salmonella.)
Today, one of the biggest key lime pie operations in the Keys is the Blond Giraffe, which has five shops stretching from Duval Street up to Miami and will soon open a sixth.
Founder Tania Beguinati used her Brazilian grandmother's recipe — which features meringue, a pastry crust and a filling with just the right consistency and tartness — to win Key West's key lime pie contest in 1999.
"The next day, everybody was in our place asking for key lime pies and we didn't have enough," Beguinati said.
The success, along with numerous awards to follow, catapulted her little sandwich and tea shop on Duval Street into a key lime pie powerhouse selling 1,000 pies a day, all with the same recipe and homemade crust from her first prize-winning slice.
Here's a classic key lime pie recipe. (If you can't find key lime juice, you can order online at www.blondegiraffe.com.)
KEY LIME PIE
1 package graham crackers
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
3 eggs (use yolks only)
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup key lime juice
1/2 pint whipped cream
Crush graham crackers in food processor, or in large resealable bag with rolling pin. Pour crumbs into pie pan. Add 1/4 cup sugar and mix with fork. Pour the melted butter over crumbs in pie pan. Mix and press into bottom of pie pan and up the sides. Bake at 325 degrees for about 8 minutes, until brown. Let cool.
Whip 3 egg yolks with the condensed milk in a bowl held over boiling water until frothy. (The steam heats the egg to prevent salmonella.) Gradually beat in lime juice. Pour into baked, cooled pie crust. Whip cream and add 1/4 cup sugar at end of whipping process. Spread whipped cream over pie and freeze. Take pie out of freezer and leave at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 servings. Per serving: 470 calories, 24 g total fat (12 g saturated fat), 135 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 86 g protein, 56 g carbohydrates (45 g sugar, 0 fiber).