Key Limes, for pie with pucker power!
Key Limes, Florida's greatest crop!
One of the most misunderstood yet desirable citrus fruits that Florida has to offer, the Florida Key Lime has always been widely sought for a variety of products. Most notably of course is the world famous Key Lime Pie that many are aware of. As a native of South Florida, I grew up enjoying Key Limes since my great grandmother, whose family migrated from the Bahamas to Key West late in the 19th century was born in Key West in 1884. She was considered a true "Conch" (pronounced Konk after the large edible shellfish known for it's meat as well as it's shell) named as such after the Bahamian Immigrants of European descent that settled in the Keys.
My grandmother, born in 1912 in Key West naturally learned the culinary ways of the Keys and always continued her Conch style cooking along with her mother even after moving north to Miami. Key Limes were always around since we had trees in the yard and they were used in various dishes (not to mention as a twist in Dad's Gin and tonic). When it came to the pie though, none compared to my great grandmother's and the family still uses her recipe to this day. You just can't get any more authentic than that! I'll give her recipe below as well as Key Lime cake and cover some of the other products and information concerning this wonderfully tart delight.
What, it's not green?
One of the bigger myths.
When most people think of limes, they naturally think of the color green. Similarly, the thought of lemons conjures up yellow. Because of the name, everyone thinks the Key Lime should follow suit, but while many are picked while still green, they actually ripen to yellow, and often have brown blotches. They're also much smaller than other limes growing no larger than a golf ball, and just about as round.
It is widely considered to have first entered Florida in the 1500's by the explorers from Spain. Needing a tropical climate and good drainage, it readily found a home in the Florida Keys where it is still revered and it's pie a staple of many restaurants. Although smaller in size, it is much more acidic than the standard Persian Limes and what gives an authentic pie it's "pucker power". Although the small thorny trees grow elsewhere, there's nothing like the limes grown in the Keys and we've always attributed it to the fact it thrives near mangroves where brackish water really gives it some punch!
Of course the tourists that came to the South Florida area expected the pie to be green, so for many years a lot of the pies sold featured green food coloring. Although some thought we were crazy, a common question at a restaurant that boasted good key Lime Pie was "what color is it?". Even some that passed the test and said yellow (it's actually a very pale yellow), brought out slices that were adorned with slices of green Persian Lime on top! Fortunately these days, most are aware of the true color and serve it accordingly. Many still love the slice of green on top though for decoration, so I guess some habits are hard to break.
Grannie Page's authentic Key Lime Pie
This one is the real deal from the late 1800's.
While admittedly there are a few of us that vary this just slightly, the basic recipe is the same. Back in my great grandmother's day though, the pie was made just one way...a flakey hand rolled pie crust and finished off with meringue on top. The only reasons some of us deviate are rather simple. Although we love the original crust, most of us are not adept at baking. Pre-made graham cracker pie shells work nicely and quite frankly Cool Whip is not only easier to apply than whipping up a meringue, but many of us prefer the taste. My mother, true to her roots does not agree, so the only time we get it the way Grannie Page made it is when Mom cooks!
Simple to make, you need the following ingredients. 1/2 cup of key Lime juice (there are some bottled juices that are not bad and make a suitable substitute), 4 egg yolks (save the whites if you do a meringue), one 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk, and of course the pie shell of your choice. Many grocery stores sell graham cracker crust tart shells that work wonderfully for making individual servings and great for taking into the office or for get togethers.
In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, condensed milk and lime juice stirring until it starts to thicken a bit and is well blended. Pour into the pie shell and you're ready to bake. Although the acidity of the juice will actually cook the pie, we always bake it for about 10 minutes or so at 350 degrees which helps set the pie and avoids problems from using the raw egg yolks. Of course if you opt for the meringue, you need to bake it anyway just until you brown the tops slightly.
Once cooled, you're ready to enjoy the favorite dessert of the Florida Keys! Although it is the most prevalent product made from the juice, you can find a plethora of items made from Key Limes including candy, cakes, cookies, beverages, jellies and even shampoo, lotions and soap!
Grannie Koeppen's Key Lime Cake
For those that prefer a cake to pie, here's another Conch Classic using the infamous juice, Key Lime Cake! Simple to make, this makes another delightful dessert with just the right amount of kick to it! In addition to the pies, this one usually made an appearance at most family gatherings.
1 package of Lemon Cake mix
1 package Lemon Instant pudding
1 cup water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons Key Lime juice
(you will also need Confectioners sugar and another 1/3 cup of juice for the glaze)
Mix ingredients until well blended and pour into a greased Bundt Pan or a 9" X 13" pan. Bake at 325Â° F. for 45 - 60 minutes. Let sit for about 5 minutes. remove form pan and prick the cake with a fork while still hot.
Make a glaze of 2 cups of 10X Confectioners sugar and 1/3 cup of Key Lime juice. Drizzle the glaze all over the cake. Note that it is better if left standing for several hours or overnight..
The place for pie...and other edible delights!
The southernmost city of the US is not only a great place to visit for key lime made products, but also features a vast array of tasty delights unique to the area. While we'll cover those in a separate feature on Conch style cooking, this tiny island couldn't go unmentioned when talking about Key Lime Pie. Featured just about everywhere, places boast of having pie voted the "Best in Key West". Of course no better person to judge than you. Go see for yourself, you won't regret it!
Can't make it down to the Conch Republic? Not to worry, there's plenty of Key Lime products you can buy without ever leaving your house. In fact, if you look, you can even find someone to overnight a Key Lime Pie right to your door. Whatever you decide, take a look at some of the Key Lime offerings below.
Great Key Lime Stuff on Amazon
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