Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Maryellen's Key Lime Pie

An easy way to bring a Florida favorite into your home!

I've had very mixed experiences making pie. Some of them have turned out awesome, and some have been kind of a hot mess. Key lime pie was a dish that I was totally intimidated to try making, because in the past, I've usually seen it served in the form of a curd and a meringue topping. I'd like to think that I'm pretty brave in the kitchen, but sometimes, you just want something simple and easy, you know what I mean?

Fortunately, I stumbled upon a really simple version that sounded and looked delicious. No fussing with making a curd or a meringue, and thus the perfect thing for me to make for a Sunday dinner dessert.

Easy, time saving recipes are what the 50's are all about, for better or worse, so although this isn't an authentically 50's recipe, I think it's something Maryellen - a Florida native - and her family would approve of!

Well, except for one thing.

I didn't have key limes.

Most states in the US seem to have a signature dish that people get really possessive and proud of, or tourists expect to find in every single restaurant and shop no matter where they are. I think it's pretty safe to say that Florida's signature dish - or one of them anyway - is the key lime pie, a tasty treat with a history that's difficult to totally pin down. Although its point of origin is the Florida Keys, or the little islands right off the coast of the tip of Florida, it seems like every family and restaurant has their own version of the recipe which they came is the only true, authentic one. For a Yankee like me, it's really difficult to know where to even begin looking for the one true key lime pie!

Apparently, the truly original recipe goes back to at least 1855, and used condensed milk as the base for the lime filling. This was apparently a means to make the dessert more health conscious (remember, ideas of what was good for you were a lot different in the 1850's than they are now!) and also because the Keys didn't have refrigeration until the 1930's. Although this dish obviously goes back way farther than Maryellen's series, she definitely would be intimately familiar with the dish and would probably have some intense state pride about it. By the 50's, it had definitely become a very well known dish around the country, and President Truman apparently would make special trips to a restaurant in the Keys for a variety that used ice cream instead of condensed milk!

Some Floridians are especially militant about a true key lime pie using only key limes, but apparently, true key limes are really difficult to find. According to David Sloan, a key lime pie expert, the original lime trees were mostly wiped out in a hurricane in 1926. Trees were replanted, but they were a different variety of limes, so they have a different flavor that the true key lime enthusiast can definitely pick out. Still, that didn't stop a Florida state representative from introducing a bill in 1965 that would fine anyone making a key lime pie without authentic key limes. The bill didn't pass, but it's a good example of how nutty people can get for this recipe!

Since I live up north, I can't get my hands on authentic key limes, and had to make do with normal, average limes. My recipe came from AllRecipes and can be accessed here for the curious... or the hungry!

First things first, I took the zest of about three limes to get the requested two teaspoons of zest.

Next, I juiced all five limes to get 2/3 of a cup of lime juice. To this, I added one 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk and 1/3 of a cup of plain Greek yogurt. The recipe technically calls for sour cream, but we didn't have any in the house and you can substitute for Greek yogurt if you have that on hand, which we always do. It's the only kind of yogurt I can really stomach eating!

This all gets whisked together, and then you toss in the lime zest.

Whisk that in, and you've got your filling completed! See, isn't that easy? I'm not sure of the provenance of this specific recipe, but I can definitely imagine a busy 50's housewife being incredibly relieved to skip over tossing in eggs or worrying about making a curd.

Another way to skip any tricky preparation is just to use a premade graham cracker crust. I've had a lot of issues making them from scratch, and since this was supposed to be a recipe of convenience, I decided I was just going to go with the store bought variety. Apparently, the very first key lime pies might not have had crusts at all, and while graham cracker crusts seem to be the most popular modern choice, some people are very insistent that you should make a regular pastry crust, not graham cracker!

You'll notice the pie has a light yellow filling rather than deep or vivid green. Apparently, a really green filling is an immediate sign that the cook isn't from Florida and doesn't know what they're doing - pale yellow is the way to go.

The pie cooks in the oven at 325 degrees for about ten minutes, or until small bubbles form on to the top of the pie. I think mine took a little bit longer, and I called it finished when the filling really looked set in the crust.

To top the pie, whip up some cream! Nice and simple.

One cup of heavy whipping cream, 1/4 of a cup of powdered sugar and 1/2 of a teaspoon of vanilla covered the pie perfectly. Make sure your pie is cool before you try to put the topping on it!

Now, this is a pie best served cold, and it does need to be chilled for a few hours before you serve it. The recipe also says this is a recipe best served the same day you make it, although the leftovers we ate were perfectly fine a day or two later.

Although this isn't the most artistic key lime pie I've ever seen, it still makes a pretty attractive slice when you cut into it.

Taste wise? This was pretty amazing. I was a little worried it wouldn't have much lime flavor, but it totally did, and was sweet and tart without being too much of either. Texture wise, this was really similar to a cheesecake, and someone actually did ask if it was a cheesecake when they took a bite of it. I feel like most of the key lime pies I've seen in restaurants and bakeries have had a curd filling, and so this was really unique and different to me, and definitely tasty! It was a hit with my audience as well, and got passed around to a couple new taste testers as well. Always nice to make a good first impression on people after your grandparents have been talking up your cooking blog to them!

Overall, this was a delightfully simple recipe that yielded really fantastic results. It definitely looks like a dessert you spent a lot of time on, when in reality, it really only takes about fifteen minutes to assemble and ten or so minutes to cook. Sure, you have to let it chill a bit before serving it, but overall, this was a ridiculously simple recipe, and I'll say it again - this might not be a truly authentic 50's recipe, but it kind of feels like one to me. Using a lot of store bought ingredients and putting in a little elbow grease of your own would have made this popular with anyone looking for a sweet treat to bake, and it does add a fun splash of tropical flavor to a hot summer day. If you're looking for a way to get a taste of Maryellen's home, look no further! This really was a winner.

Even if you don't have key limes on hand!


  1. This was tasty although a little too sweet for me. I am a fussy Key Lime pie person, so I guess I'm not surprised with my conclusion. It is nice how easy it is to put together.

    1. Maybe we'll more lime juice next time!