By: Elizabeth Webber Akre
I met Neil in 1997. He was born in Florida, but when I met him, he’d recently landed in South Carolina after 15 or so years in the Norse Land (you may know it as Minnesota). Over those years, he’d been back and forth to FL, since his parents had moved back down there. As we got to know each other, I learned a lot of interesting things about the places he has lived: practically everything in America was invented in Minnesota (’cause they spend half the year locked up in their snowed in houses just thinking up stuff?), when racing jet skis on TV, wear bathing trunks with a drawstring waist (MOOON over Miami), Ducatis are the only motorcycles worth owning, and most importantly, real key lime pie is NOT green.
Up until this point, key lime pie never really piqued my interest. At. All. But, turns out, it’s Neil’s most favorite dessert on Earth. As he was letting me know this, he also told me something I’d never heard before: real key lime pie isn’t green. Lime pie is green, perhaps. Food coloring helps, too. But a real key lime isn’t the same as the big limes we all see on a regular basis. No, key limes are tiny- like the size of a ping pong ball- and that’s considered a big one. And, key limes are way more tart than “regular” (Persian) limes. In fact, these little green orbs will turn your cheeks inside out…that’s how tart we’re talking about! So, Neil advised me of this: if you see a “key lime pie” in a restaurant that is green, know this: it’s not real key lime pie. Just say NO.
Well, here we are all these years later, married and with a wonderful little girl. I’ve been making key lime pies for awhile now. The first time, I bought a bag of key limes from the grocery. Like I said, they are tiny. So, I cut them all in half, clutched them in my fingers and juiced them one by one. When it was over, I could hardly unclench my fists and was convinced that I’d just given myself incurable arthritis. I vowed that as much as I loved Neil, this was his one and only homemade key lime pie.
Lucky for him, I was browsing around Williams-Sonoma one day and lo and behold! I discovered you can BUY key lime juice in a bottle! Now, this was a game changer indeed. I bought a couple bottles of (really) expensive juice and ran right home to bake up a pie. Months later, my sister was visiting and saw this primo juice in my fridge and said something like, “You know you can get this in the grocery store, right?” Bahh wuhhh? So, my little sister drove over to the Piggly Wiggly and returned with four bottles of key lime juice for the price of my two Williams-Sonoma bottles. But, no worries…now we’re in business! I can make Neil’s fave anytime I want. Easily, inexpensively and all year long. Good thing for him, because I was never juicing those little limes by hand ever again. Never, ever, ever, again. Period.
Fast forward to today. I now have the most awesome juicing tool ever invented. Good thing too, since this Christmas, my parents found a key lime bush that has been cross-bred with a loquat, so it can withstand colder temps than they have in Florida. So now we’re growing our own key limes on the patio! I wouldn’t be so excited about this if it were not for my juicer, especially since I’d vowed never to juice those things by hand again! Of course, you just can’t beat the bottled juice, but if you want to go old school and juice yourself, you must get one of these. Plain and simple.
This weekend was St. Patrick’s Day, and we were having corned beef and cabbage at my inlaws’ house on Sunday. The only thing I had on hand that I could whip up quickly that was remotely “green” was key lime. I was able to harvest one of our tiny baby limes to garnish and the pie turned out terrific as usual. The crazy thing is how easy this recipe is. Most of the time, you use a graham cracker crust, which is quite delicious. But one day at the grocery, I came across a granola crust, which I’d never seen before. I used one for this latest pie and it was terrific. In fact, it was better than a plain ol’ graham cracker crust. I think this will be my new “go to” for these pies.
The low-down on key lime pie is this: don’t waste your time with “regular” lime juice, either juice your own little tiny key limes or buy the key lime juice…there IS a difference! All you need is 1/2 cup juice, 3 egg yolks and a can of condensed milk. Mix until smooth, pour into pie shell and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.
Then, cool for about 10 minutes before refrigerating. Garnish as you wish, but rest assured, it wil be happily consumed decorated or plain Jane!
Elizabeth writes Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef). For more thoughts, stories, musings, and opinions about food, please visit and subscribe. Eat, drink and be merry!