The jewel of every southwest Florida garden is the prized Key Lime tree. This sturdy plant requires little attention yet its wonderfully fragrant blooms and fruit appear almost all year round. And what fruit it is. The flavourful little lime is a welcome addition to cocktails, adds piquancy to seafood, and of course is the main ingredient in Florida's famous Key Lime Pie. More tart and aromatic than the more commonly available Persian Limes, however the rind of the Key Lime is quite thin, so the fruit is more perishable and harder to ship. On top of that, the tree is also quite thorny, so the fruit is harder to gather, but it's definitely worth the effort.
Florida key limes have a thinner skin than more common Persian limes
Condensed milk is also used in a traditional Key Lime Pie. Before modern refrigeration, early settlers in the Florida Keys didn't often have access to fresh milk, so they had to use condensed milk. Traditional pies also never use green food colouring. Key Lime juice, unlike regular lime juice, is pale yellow, so the filling in an authentic Key Lime Pie is also pale yellow, coupled with the ten egg yolks also used in the filling!
Harry's Continental Kitchen Restaurant on Longboat Key
Chef-owner Harry Christensen
For a truly great Key Lime Pie, the egg yolks get cooked from the lime juice, like ceviche. So it's always best to let the filling sit a while in the cooked pastry shell before topping the pie with a crown of meringue. My Mom always buys her Key Lime Pie from Harry's Continental Kitchen, which is just around the corner from where they live on Longboat Key. Considered to be one of the best in Florida, Harry's Key Lime Pie is a sight to behold, and the flavour, not to be missed. Harry Christenesen, chef-owner of Harry's, published the recipe in the Longboat Observer a number of years ago, so if you can't make it down to the Key, here it is to enjoy in the comfort of your own home.
Harry’s Key Lime Pie
Recipe courtesy of Chef Harry Christensen, Harry’s Continental Kitchens, Longboat Key, Florida
1 baked 10-inch deep pie shell
10 egg yolks
14 oz condensed milk
1 cup key lime juice
10 egg whites
3/4 tsp cream of tarter
equal amount of sugar as egg whites
To make the filling, mix together the 10 egg yolks and condensed milk, adding the key lime juice last. Pour the filling into the cooked pie shell and let it sit while making the meringue. For the meringue, whip the egg whites with cream of tarter until the mixture becomes stiff, then add the sugar slowly until the meringue comes to a stiff peak. Pipe the meringue on top and bake at 325°F for about 35 minutes, until the top is lightly golden. Key Lime Pie can be served chilled or at room temperature.