Key Lime Pie

Florida's Sweet Sensation

“Key Lime Pie” is the official Florida State pie. 100 years ago, key limes were easy to find in South Florida and the other main ingredient (condensed milk) didn’t need refrigeration, so bakers combined the two to make a prize-winning pie.

But, difficult hurricane weather played a large role in the key lime’s commercial success and failure. When the hurricane of 1906 destroyed local pineapple plantations, South Florida growers expanded their key lime production, especially in the Keys and the islands off Fort Myers. From 1913 to 1923, key limes were pickled in salt water and shipped to Boston to serve as a snack for school children. Up until Hurricane Andrew in 1992, 90% of US supermarket limes were grown in Florida. Today, most key limes sold in the US are grown in Mexico.

Key Lime – Citrus aurantifolia
The Real Deal

Today most purists insist that a “true” key lime pie only has five ingredients: crushed graham crackers and butter for the crust, egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, and juice from fresh key limes for the filling. Sneaking in grated zest just passes their scrutiny. And the topping? There are two competing camps: one insists on whipped cream, the other swears by baked meringue (to use up all of those remaining egg whites). Whipped cream is easy to make or buy. Just know that meringue is prone to weeping, sweating, and collapsing in Florida’s high humidity.



  • 10 whole graham crackers
  • 6 TBL butter, melted



  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated key lime zest
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup squeezed lime juice (from about 12 key limes)
  • whipped cream for garnish


Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch pie pan.

Make the crust: Place graham crackers in a heavy-duty plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin, or crumble them into a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Place crumbs in a mixing bowl and drizzle with melted butter. Stir with a fork until evenly damp. Press the mixture into the bottom and sides of the prepared pie pan. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until slightly brown and firm. Set aside to cool.

Filling: Combine egg yolks and lime zest, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for several minutes until smooth. Add condensed milk and continue to beat for 4 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Reduce the mixer speed and trickle in the lime juice, beating just until smooth. Pour the mixture into a pre-baked pie shell and bake for 12 minutes, or until the filling is set and doesn’t jiggle. Cool on a rack and then chill for at least 2 hours. Freeze for 30 minutes before serving. Let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving. Garnish each serving with whipped cream.

Helpful Baking Tips

  • If you can’t find real key limes, make the pie with juice from about 4 Persian limes. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to create a complex sour flavor. Or, you can use half lime, half lemon juice.
  • Add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of granulated sugar to the crushed graham crackers before baking to sharpen the contrast between the filling and the crust.
  • Beat one of the leftover egg whites until foamy and brush the inside of the graham cracker crust before baking it to keep the crust from getting soggy after you add the filling.
  • In the old days, key lime pie wasn’t baked. The acidity of key limes can kill salmonella, and when combined with the sweetened condensed milk, it causes the filling to thicken slightly. To be safe, we recommend cooking the filling before adding the whipped cream. This will also ensure that the filling isn’t too runny
  • Garnish slices of pie with thin key lime slices or grated nutmeg.


Written by
Kristin Calkins, Travel writer
Recipe: “Cooking USA” by Georgia Orcutt and John Margolies /Reprinted with permission from Ft. Myers Magazine

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