Living the Key Lime Life
Key Lime Pies and Pink Flamingos. Both colorful delights are highly thought of as a celebrated and historical Florida things, but are they?
What’s the big deal and claims about Key Wests most favorite citrus fruit? Well, the Key Lime (Citrus aurantifolia) NOT to be confused or substituted for Citrus latifolia is definitely one of the top bucket list items to consume while in Key West Florida in your food and drink! I don’t want to branch out and get into the whole botany trumps terroir dissertation, so we will stick with the roots of the story, unless you want to email us directly to ask for a specific private group tour just on that subject alone. It would be way more than the standard 3-hour tour, because Capt. K’Raven is teeming with a plethora of knowledge and enthusiasm on this subject!
This tiny little citrus fruit originally hales from the Indo-Malayan Region, where it was treasured for its rehabilitating fruit and decorative foliage. The Key lime made its way to North Africa via Arabian traders. It was then carried onto Palestine and Mediterranean Europe by the Crusaders. Columbus is credited (of course) with bringing the Key lime to Hispaniola (now known as Haiti), where it was carried on by Spanish settlers to ‘La Florida’ (the land of Flowers) now known as Florida. This special lime begins its life as a tiny fragrant flower donning white petals, a superior ovary, 9 stamens and develops into a handsome little brownish, yellowish, greenish power packed multi-use ball that is cholesterol free and packed with Vitamin A and C. A little know by-product is the Lime Oil which is used in various cosmetics, lotions and potions. To chefs, the Key Lime is used as not only a flavoring, but most importantly as a remover and protector from bacteria, a shelf life extender, and to ‘cure’ not ‘cook’ fish of all kinds known as ceviche. Some popular island ceviche’s are Conch, Hog Fish, Shrimp, Mahi-Mahi, Grouper, Scallops and Yellow Snapper.
Key West celebrates and covets the Key Lime. This year will be the 6th annual Key Lime Festival that is held on the July 4th weekend. It’s a celebration of all things Key Lime and it’s happy zesty cuisine and cultural existence in hundreds of food and drink recipes.
Florida history of the Key Lime: In 1965, Florida State Representative Bernie Papy Jr., introduced a legislative Bill calling for a $100 fine to be levied against anyone advertising Key Lime Pie not made with Key Limes. It was a great effort, but the bill failed. But be warned: if anyone tries to serve you a Key Lime Pie that is green, call them out on it, as they are only serving you a Lime Pie, not a Key Lime Pie. The big visual difference is the color. Lime Pie is green, and Key Lime Pie is a very pale yellow to white, depending on if the recipe is using eggs, or not using eggs. Both the egg, and eggless is acceptable by Pie enthusiasts today. The difference is the egg recipe is usually cooked, and the eggless is not cooked, but rather is ‘cured’ because of the chemical reaction the Key Lime Juice has on the other ingredients. The eggless pie can also be made gluten free, vegan friendly. A calorie free version is also available, but must be consumed on your birthday or while on vacation!
Although the origin of the Key Lime Pie are hard to pin by most historians, the true facts and actuality did not stop the official proclamation on July 1, 2006, whereas the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate passed legislation selecting Key Lime Pie as the ‘Official Pie of the State of Florida’. That’s where its at today, but history tries to show us more.
In the early 1800’s Florida’s 1st self-made Millionaire, William Curry, claims that his cook, known as ‘Aunt Sally’, created the first Key Lime Pie as a special dessert for her very deserving boss. But, some historians surmise that ‘Aunt Sally’, originally from the Bahamas (as was Mr. Curry) already new how to make what was called ‘lemon ice box pie’ which used condensed milk, egg yolks and lemons, but instead she substituted Key Limes as they were available and lemons where not and called the adapted recipe Key Lime Pie. Aunt Sally never wrote down the recipe, and many a historian has tried to track her genealogy down to query other family members, but when she died in Key West, no one knew her last name, so a death certificate could not be produced, and her real family could not be found, so her secret recipe was literally taken to the grave. Hmmmmmm, I think this is where ‘History’ conflicts with ‘Herstory’.
Another claim of the Key Lime Pie happened around circa 1800’s was made by some of our local ‘Hookers’, AKA, ‘Fisherman’, used local ingredients that they new would hold their goodness and freshness for many a scorching day out at sea. These sweet tooth ‘Hookers of the Sea’ would whip up this tasty dessert of sugar, eggs, canned milk, soda crackers (Uneeda Biscuit), nuts and citrus fruit. There are varied stories of many recipes and then, like now, all demanded bragging rights that theirs were the best of any cool tart pie! Word has it, that some of the fisherman shared their recipes with some local woman, and then it became a bigger competition to whom could make the best Key Lime Pie. Or, is this just another fish story?
Tom Hambright, a local Key West Historian/librarian, has been quoted as saying the first written reference he can find of key lime pie is in a 1930’s WPA (Works Progress Administration) promotional which mentions “world-famous” Key Lime Pie. He also tells that a 1920 Key West Woman’s Club Cookbook says nothing about key lime pie. Was it because key lime pie didn’t exist, or was it because it was so common and easy to make the Woman’s Club didn’t consider it worthy of their fine publication?
Big News: It was 2014 when Capt. K’Raven, a Key West Fresh Water Conch, Researcher, Key Lime Aficionado, and Practicing Raconteur, finally did the heavy work of unraveling the true and amazing story of the origin and purpose of the now World Famous Key Lime Pie. If you really want to discover the Real Story and have a taste of the Very Original Key Lime Pie, book your tour now with Capt. K’Raven at www.EatDrinkDiscoverKeyWest.com
As to the real story of the Florida Pink Flamingo, that will have to be a whole other blog to take flight soon!