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The United States of Desserts: Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie from Joe's Stone Crab
Key Lime Pie from Joe's Stone Crab
Photo by Wally Gobetz

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections, and desserts associated with American states.

I have to admit, I really don't love key lime pie. I've never made it at home, and I don't think I've ever ordered it at a restaurant. The handful of times I have eaten key lime pie were usually prompted by others urging me to try some of their portion. After a bite or two, I always think, "This is good. But too tart to eat an entire slice."

I recognize, however, I'm definitely in the minority. Key lime pie appears on many, many restaurant menus, and the flavor is so popular that food manufacturers have piggy-backed off of its broad appeal to launch successful spin-off products, such as ice cream and yogurt.

Key Lime Pie...in yogurt form
Key Lime Pie...in yogurt form
Photo by theimpulsivebuy

As a nineteenth-century history buff, I should be more excited about key lime pie, which originated in Key West, Florida, in the late 1800s. The recipe is likely to have developed out of a need to create a dessert that fishermen could enjoy during lengthy trips at sea but that did not involve an oven or perishable ingredients. Hence the reason no cooking was required in early forms of key lime pie and today most recipes still use some sort of canned milk.

Although graham crackers are most commonly used for the crust of key lime pies, some new-fangled versions employ alternatives such as pretzels.

I'm guessing also that back in the day fishermen liked this pie because it prevented them from getting scurvy as well as satisfied their sweet tooth. I'd rather just do as the limeys did and suck key limes.


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