In Search of Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie is an American dessert made of key lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk in a pie crust. The traditional Conch version uses the egg whites to make a meringue topping. The dish is named after the small key limes that are naturalized throughout the Florida Keys.The origin of Key Lime Pie has been traced back to the late 19th century in the Key West, Florida area. Its exact origins are unknown, but the first formal mention of Key Lime Pie as a recipe may have been made by William Curry, a ship salvager and Key West’s first millionaire; his cook, “Aunt Sally,” made the pie for him.

 In 2006 both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate passed legislation effecting that key lime pie is the “Official Pie of the State of Florida.”I was introduced to Key Lime Pie over 30 years ago and mastered the recipe; thus a week in Florida inspired the hunt for the finest. A nightly ritual of sampling yielded several delectable versions. Unfortunately, due to lack of parking, the historic Old Key Lime House missed the assessment. Although, I enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the Intercoastal waterway from the roof top deck, the valet turned away our driver, thus we left without a bite.

Bon Appetite magazine featured it as an award winning pie; so disappointed that it missed the official evaluation.
 We forged out every evening seeking a creamy pie with the perfect crust, we discovered that each restaurant had its own interpretation: a few were topped with a meringue, the Conch version. Shockingly, several restaurants didn’t offer the official pie of Florida.
Ought to be a law.

Two Georges, on the waterfront, managed to find a spot for the car, thus it qualified for the evaluation team. The pie was worthy enough to request the recipe; the restaurant manager could only offer the brand of Key Lime Juice that his Haitian baker uses: Mrs.Biddle’s, this is a new one to me; I’ve always cooked with Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key Lime Juice. High marks for Two Georges pie.

Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach is teeming with trendy cafés and congested clubs. Among them, 32 East is sophisticated and clubby; the award winning chef Nick Morfogen sources seasonal products around the country, his menu is innovative and contemporary. Loved every course here and the manager produced a superb Key Lime Pie for our testing trial. Most excellent and the best of the week – a perfectly piquant lime filling and a dollop of meringue teetered on the edge of the flawless graham cracker crust.
A close competitor was at a private dinner beneath a clear pavilion at The Ocean Club. A dear friend delivered the last piece of Key Lime Pie; however, later meandering at the dessert bar I discovered a small bite size Key Lime Pie cup. Technically, it didn’t qualify, as it lacked the traditional graham cracker crust – but a mere morsel was scrumptious!
Ta – boo, the legendary Palm Beach bistro, must have offered the dessert; however, I was so distracted by the chic crowd and the posturing models peddling jewelry, I forgot to request pie following lunch. Apparently, it is a haven for well-known patrons who generate tantalizing gossip including a tale of Joseph P. Kennedy barricading himself and Gloria Swanson in the ladies room for an entire evening. For people watching, it wins hands down.I’m certain dining on healthy fish every night balanced out the sugary pie tasting.

Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key Lime Juice is available locally; you can secure Mrs. Biddles on an escape to the south coast of Florida, which isn’t a bad idea!

Old Key Lime House  Recipe
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup bottled Key lime juice
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Key Ingredient: The Old Key Lime House uses Nellie and Joe’s Key lime juice in its pie.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add melted butter and stir to coat well. Press crust into 9-inch diameter glass pie dish. Bake 5 minutes. Cool.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Whisk all ingredients in large bowl until smooth. Pour mixture into cooled crust. Bake until center is set, about 25 minutes. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and chill at least 6 hours or overnight.

Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients in large bowl until peaks form. Spread atop pie and serve.