Key Lime Pie, and All You Probably Don’t Know About Key Limes!
We are on a quest for key lime pie, a journey like no other! One that you’ve only heard about in stories! Together, we will travel through space and time to discover the history behind this beloved dessert, explore its variations, and trace the chain of events that brought this culinary masterpiece to our table.
You really need to hold on tight because once we’re finished with our dessert and its history, we’re going to take huge jumps back in time and sail around the globe to discover the origin of Key Limes. Believe me mates, you will see wonderful places, meet great people, and hear stories you won’t find anywhere else!
Departure Point: Florida Keys, Present Day
Our adventure starts in the Florida Keys. This place consists of a number of islands off the southern coast of Florida, forming the southernmost part of the continental United States. The islands lie along the Florida Straits, dividing the Atlantic Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest and defining one edge of Florida Bay.
But why Florida Keys? Simply because this classic dessert has literally got its name from this part of the world and what it’s known for: Key limes, a citrus fruit known for its distinctive aroma and acidic flavour that has grown its roots deep in the local culture. There’s hardly a restaurant in this area without this dessert on their menu.
Key Lime Pie Variations and Adaptations
Speaking of the menu, key lime pie has inspired a medley of variations and adaptations since its creation. These variations ensure that the dessert has something to offer to a wide variety of audiences with different taste preferences, ensuring that it remains a perennial favourite. Enough talking; let’s take a look at these delicious creations!
Easy Key Lime Pie (All Recipes)
Key Lime Pie, The Classic Version: The filling is typically made from a mixture of lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk. As a result, it typically boasts a sunny yellow hue. Originally, the filling was prepared without cooking. However, the modern-day Key lime pie is often baked to pasteurize the eggs and further enhance the filling’s consistency and flavour.
As for the crust, you have multiple options. It can be a traditional pie crust, a graham cracker crust, or even without any crust at all. The dessert offers a range of serving options as well, including plain, with meringue topping, or with whipped cream. Tried it before? Move on to the next items.
Frozen version with Graham cracker crust (5 Boys Baker)
Frozen Key Lime Pie: This version is served frozen, resembling a creamy and tangy ice cream flavoured as a key lime pie. It’s perfect for hot days and provides a refreshing twist on the classic. Just like the original version, it has a tart lime filling and a graham cracker crust, topped with whipped cream.
Chocolate-covered version with sticks (Food is a four-letter word)
Chocolate-dipped Key Lime Pie: This one is a must-try variation for anyone with a love for citrusy and chocolatey delights. The invention features slices of creamy pie generously coated in a smooth layer of melted chocolate, creating a harmonious balance of sweet and tart flavours.
Squares of zesty Lime Pie Bars (Little Spice Jar)
Key Lime bars: These bars are basically the same thing as the original version but cut in a square shape, just like lemon bars! The bars are zesty, full of lime juice, and perfect for springtime.
A bowl of key lime pie dip, with graham cracker dippers on the side (Delish)
Key Lime Pie Dip: This variation is an easy-to-make dessert dip that captures the essence of the pie, perfect for potluck parties and barbecues. You can serve it with a creamy base, tangy lime flavour, and graham cracker dippers to make the best experience for everyone.
Easy-to-make, light, and fluffy pancakes with lime zest sprinkles (Queenslee appetit)
Key Lime Pie Pancakes: If you would like to incorporate the flavours of the dessert into your breakfast, these light and fluffy pancakes are the perfect choice for you. You can top them with some maple syrup, whipped cream, lime zest, and graham cracker crumbles.
Key Lime Pie Greek Yogurt Parfait (Crazy inspired life)
Key Lime Pie Parfait: This adaptation is all about layers of pie filling, whipped cream, and crushed graham crackers in a glass to create a visually appealing and delicious parfait. These parfaits share the same components as in a regular key lime pie.
Bite-size truffles with ganache filling (Food Network)
Truffle Version: This adaptation has the essence of the pie embraced in a single, bite-sized confection. The yummy ganache center bursts with fresh citrus flavours from the lime zest. Plus, the graham-cracker crumb sprinkles give each truffle a delightful crunch.
Gluten-free Key lime pie overnight oats (Basics with Bails)
Overnight Key Lime Oats: This one here can be a high-protein oatmeal requiring minimal effort to make, with a perfect balance of sweet and tangy. If you would like to explore healthy options, this nutritious adaptation can be an ideal choice to start your day, especially with the addition of some key lime juice and graham cracker crumbles.
Gluten-free and vegan Key lime energy balls (Dishing out health)
Energy Key Lime Bites: This version is a nourishing and energizing delight that mirrors the flavours of an actual key lime pie slice. The zesty energy balls can be prepared in 10 minutes, which makes them an essential option for convenient and satisfying snacking.
Milkshake with whipped cream, graham cracker crumbs, and lime zest topping (Farm flavor)
Key Lime Pie Milkshake: This Milkshake is a lighter and innovative take on the classic dessert and can be enjoyed on the go. It’s a refreshingly cold and creamy drink, blended with Key lime, vanilla ice cream, and milk.
Key Lime Pie Martini (Food Network)
Key Lime Pie Martini: The Martini version merges desserts and drinks, uniting tangy lime zest, luscious cream, and graham cracker rim in a sip-worthy ode to the classic confection. It’s like Key lime pie but in a liquid form! Take a sip, and prepare for the journey.
First Stop: Florida, 2006
Now that we’re done with our dessert let’s start our journey to find out how it got so important for the local people here in the Florida Keys. Our first stop is the same location, only a few years back in time! In 2006, the Florida Legislature declared Key Lime Pie as the official state pie. This designation is a way of celebrating the pie and recognizing its cultural importance in the City of Key West and affirms the cultural and historical significance of this beloved dessert and its main ingredient, Key limes. So, this is where it literally got official! Is this the origin? No way!
Second Stop: Key West, Florida, 2002
In order to trace the roots, we need to dig a little deeper and have another quick jump to 2002. Our mini-stop here is to attend the very first event that still continues as an annual fest today: The Key Lime Festival, “America’s favorite citrus celebration” as they call it!
People of Florida Keys celebrate the things that make their islands unique, including Citrus, eccentrics, people & pie. The celebration is fun, odd & unforgettable for sure. Each year, they invite everybody to “the birthplace of Key Lime Pie” for a little taste. But is it really the birthplace of the dessert? To find the answer to that question, we need to get to 1920s New York first to pay a visit to Mr. Gail Borden Jr.!
Gail Borden’s Eagle Brand condensed milk front label (Boston Public Library Flickr)
Third Stop: New York, 1920s
When it comes to the origins of Key Lime Pie, we’ve got different stories. Researchers suggest that the pie might have originated not in Florida but from a condensed milk company. It is believed that Borden milk company invented the recipe in order to sell more sweetened condensed milk, which is a crucial ingredient in Key lime pie. That sounds crazy, right?!
The company was founded in 1857 by Gail Borden Jr., an entrepreneur and inventor best known for revolutionizing the dairy industry by developing the first successful commercial method of condensing milk.
But the interesting part is that the company created a fictional character named “Jane Ellison” in the 1920s to promote its Eagle Brand condensed milk. Jane, who was promoted as a “culinary expert,” published her “Magic Recipes” in magazine articles, on the radio, and in pamphlets, recipes that were actually written by various employees of the company’s advertising department.
Her “Magic!” cookbook is especially notable for its “Magic Lemon Cream Pie,” which is considered to be the ancestor of Key lime pie. Based on this view, the people of Florida Keys took the recipe and replaced lemons with what they had in abundance: Key limes. Did they really? We need to go back there and see what the locals say!
William Curry’s Mansion (Curry Mansion Inn)
Back to 1837 Key West, Florida: Who Really Invented the Key Lime Pie?
We’re going to jump a few hundred years in time just to find out the Floridians’ opinion. We’re in 1837 when a penniless young man named William Curry sails from the Bahamas to the Key West. The island is occupied mainly by fishermen and wreckers now. He finds work as a clerk, and after a phenomenally successful career, he creates an empire that encompasses merchandising, wrecking, and shipbuilding. He becomes a self-made millionaire, lives in a mansion, and eventually dies as the richest man in the state. But what does it have to do with the pie?
According to local legends, Curry’s cook, known as “Aunt Sally,” has invented the pie. The story goes that Aunt Sally took the original recipe from a fisherman and made the first real Key Lime Pie using local key limes. The pie became popular among sailors and locals due to its refreshing and tangy flavour.
However, the oldest physical evidence, like a real recipe in local newspaper archives, dates back only to 1933, and sadly, we cannot confirm the story!
But no matter who really invented the dessert, we know one thing for sure: The key limes used in the Key lime pie were not native to this area. So, where do they come from? Historians give us a name you may already know! Ready for the next stop?
Christopher Columbus (Discovery Bay)
1493 Mexico: Meet the Man Who Brought Limes to the Americas!
This is mindblowing, mates! We’re aboard a weathered ship, sails billowing in the warm Caribbean breeze. As the sun dips below the horizon, casting an amber glow upon the waves, we find ourselves sailing through the azure waters, guided by a seasoned sailor who carries with him a treasure that will forever alter the culinary landscape of millions of people on the other side of the planet. Ladies and gentlemen, Christopher Columbus!
Remember Columbus? He was an Italian explorer from the Republic of Genoa who completed four Spanish-based voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, opening the way for widespread European exploration and, unfortunately, widespread colonization. By now, sailors have found out that limes can prevent scurvy on long sea voyages. We know today that they contain lots of vitamin C (ascorbic acid).
Now, on his second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, he’s taking citrus seeds, probably including limes, to the Americas. The trees will soon become widely distributed in the West Indies and Mexico, and Henry Perrine, an enthusiast for introducing tropical plants into cultivation in the United States, will later take some to Florida from Mexico. But where did Columbus get those limes from in the first place?
Next stop: Spain, 12th Century!
Our journey is nearing its final destination! We’re in 12th-century Spain now, looking for traces of our beloved fruit in local bazaars. The sellers here say limes were first brought to the western Mediterranean countries from the Middle East by returning Crusaders and also via the spice trade and the incense trade routes from as early as 1200 BCE.
By the way, we can find the Persian Lime, which is the most widely cultivated lime species today and accounts for the largest share of the fruits sold commercially as limes. In fact, the English word “lime” is derived, via Spanish, then French, from the Arabic word līma, which is, in turn, a derivation of the Persian word limu.
In addition to the common Persian and Key lime ancestors, a number of other related plants are commonly known as limes and are used similarly: the fruit and leaves of Thai lime, for example, or makrut lime, which add a distinctive flavour to the cuisines of … Southeast Asia, which sounds like our next and final destination.
Makrut limes, native to Thailand (Allrecipes)
Final Destination: Southeast Asia, The Origin of Limes
Based on what we heard in Spain, traders have probably taken limes, as well as lemons, through India to the eastern Mediterranean countries and Africa. But most species and hybrids of citrus plants that are generally referred to as “limes” have origins within tropical Southeast Asia (i.e., India, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia), which seems to be our final destination in our quest to find the origins of our beloved dessert and its main ingredient. What an incredible journey!
To summarize our findings, it is absolutely fascinating to see how exploration and trade can spread different species and ingredients on the surface of the earth and help shape culture and culinary heritage in the farthest parts of the world in the form of desserts that we enjoy every day and take for granted.
It’s time to get back to where we started our journey and let researchers keep on sleuthing the rest. After all we’ve accomplished, we’ll be over here on Dessert Advisor, indulging in another generous slice of Key lime pie. We earned it.