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Key Lime Pie: Make it yourself cheap, quick and easy!

Updated on July 14, 2009

As I was organizing my kitchen yesterday, which lately seems to be a never-ending project, I decided to sort out my overstock of canned food and set some aside to donate to my local food bank. Far in the back reaches of my pantry, I came across a few cans of sweetened condensed milk. Which, ironically enough, I had received from that same food bank! Dusting them off, I realized they were within a month of their expiration date, so I'm not going to donate them back. But to be honest, I couldn't really think of anything to make with them.

So, always grateful for any excuse to distract myself from this never-ending cleaning and organizing project, I dug through my bookshelf till I found my copy of The Joy of Cooking.

Actually, it was my grandmother's copy, passed down to me by my mother some 27 years ago when I moved into my very first apartment. This is no ordinary cookbook: just about every recipe in it has a note or two scribbled next to it, noting recipe alterations, ingredient substitutions, additions, baking suggestions, you name it, written over the years in my grandmother's or mother's or even my own hand. It's grimy, it's yellowing, the spine is loose, pages are stained and torn, and it it without doubt, one of my most prized possessions.

I actually bought an "updated" version of the book some seven or ten years ago... the pages are still clean, it has hardly ever been used. Opening it up just isn't the same as opening up my "real" Joy of Cooking, easily over 60 years old.

Anyway, flipping through the book, stuck in the "candy" section, I came across this recipe for Key Lime Pie written on the back of gift wrap by my grandmother, which I share with you today. I should warn you that my family's recipes are not written in "traditional" recipe format!

  1. Turn the oven to 350. Don't skip, the oven must be hot for this to work right.
  2. Take the yolk of three eggs, four if they are small. Scrape some zest from five or six of the small limes. Use your father's rasp, it is the best zester. Now beat the eggs and zest until the eggs are fluffy, or as fluffy as you can get egg yolks, till your arm hurts, or you can cheat and use that mixer thing and beat hard for about 3 minutes.
  3. Now, at a slower pace, pour one can sweetened condensed milk into the bowl, you want to pour it in slow while mixing the whole time. Use fingers to get it all out of the can, it is really sticky. Wash hands after you are done licking your fingers.
  4. Oh, you should have sqeezed the limes first, but you mix the juice in last. You want a bag of those small Key limes to squeeze. Use your father's vice grips to squeeze them, works great, just don't let him see you using his tools. You want some over a half cup of juice. Slow pour the juice into the egg mix, and stir just till it is mixed. Orange juice works really good too during the summer. (Note: about 2 pounds of Key Limes).
  5. Gently pour into a (graham) cracker crust, and put in the hot oven for about 11 or 12 minutes, until it has just set. Cool on the counter while you put your dad's tools away, then when it is cool to the touch, put in the cooler. Eat later, when your dad is asleep. No need to share!

Well, off to my local Safeway I went, to pick up some Key Limes. Fortunately, there was some in stock, and here I sit enjoying a slice of home-made Key Lime Pie. Granted, I don't use my grandfather's (or my dad's!) rasp to zest the limes - I do have a "proper" zester! But I must admit I did dig through my toolbox for the vice grips. I discovered after about an hour of trying to squeeze those small, hard limes with a hand-held lime juicer bought at Walmart that Grandma was right: vice grips work best for squeezing Key Limes!

And yes, I washed my hands after licking my fingers!


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