“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.
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.
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.
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