Thursday, August 14, 2008

Key Lime Pie

No doubt the simplicity of key lime pie contributed to its popularity. There is something inherently appealing about it, probably the contrast in texture between crumb crust and smooth filling; the juxtaposed flavors of sweet custard and tart lime juice. It’s become a restaurant cliché but more often than not what will be set before you came frozen from a wholesale food purveyor. Go figure since traditional key lime pie couldn’t be easier to concoct: a graham cracker crust with a filling made from eggs, sweetened condensed milk and lime juice and zest. (The Continental in Fitchburg serves a traditional key lime pie and Restaurant Magnus an exotic modern rendition, both homemade.)

Gale Borden, founder of the soon-to-be-famous Borden Milk Company developed sweetened condensed milk in 1856. Prior to the advent of refrigeration, milk was a difficult staple to have on hand, especially during warm weather. Borden figured out a process where he could take fresh milk, heat it, remove the water and sweetened it with sugar (to improve the taste). The end result was thick, sweet and when canned keep unrefrigerated for years. Originally, the product—marketed as Eagle Brand Milk—was diluted with water to make a palatable drink but also was used straight from the can as a coffee creamer.

Sweetened condensed milk became popular during the American Civil War when the government bought huge quantities and included it as part of the field rations. After iceboxes and then refrigerators became ubiquitous, the sales of condensed milk declined. In 1931, the Borden Company started offering $25 (a heap of money during the Depression) for original recipes that they would print on the label. Considering the nature of the product, many of these recipes were for desserts. One of these recipes, lemon icebox pie, became all the rage. Simple to make, it was also a novelty at the time since it wasn’t baked but instead the filling miraculously thickened in the icebox.
Today sweetened condensed milk and condensed milk are one and the same. The unsweetened version is now marketed as evaporated milk.

Nobody knows who made the first key lime pie but it’s definitely a Florida variation of lemon icebox pie, using the tart limes that use to grow in abundance in the Keys. Key limes (also called West Indian or Mexican limes) are small, seedy and yellowish when ripe. More common is the larger, seedless, dark green Persian lime (also called Tahitian or Bearss lime).

Today, even in Florida most key lime pies are made using Persian limes. In 1926 a hurricane wiped out most of the key lime trees in Southern Florida. When commercial growers replanted they opted for the heartier Persian variety. Ironically now you will find nary a key lime even in Key West unless it came from Texas or Mexico.

My first key lime pie experience was in 1957 at a famous deli in Sunny Isles Beach called Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House. Sadly this Miami institution closed this past March. The Rascal House served all the classics that you’d expect to find at a Jewish delicatessen; all in copious portions. Most notable, though, was the key lime pie topped with a foot of meringue.

Originally, key lime pie was always crowned with meringue which today is usually replaced with whipped cream. Meringue after all takes some finesse by the cook to make and doesn’t hold up well – it’s prone to shrink and weep. I actually think whipped cream is an improvement on the original recipe since meringue tends to make this pie cloyingly sweet.

Rather than offer a recipe for traditional key lime pie since you can find them everywhere, here is my recipe for (uff da!) Wisconsin Lime Pie. We may not grow any limes but, we got dairy, you betcha!

Wisconsin Lime Pie

1 9-inch crumb crust, made from graham crackers or Nikki’s Key Lime Shortbread Cookies

1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup light cream (half-n-half)
1 cup sour cream
Combine the sugar, cornstarch, butter, lime zest and juice, and light cream in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook until thickened and smooth. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool completely.

Fold in the sour cream. Pour the mixture into the crumb crust, cover with plastic wrap and chill while making the Whipped Cream Topping.

Spread the Whipped Cream Topping over the pie and chill for 2 hours or until serving time. (It’s best if made the day it is to be served.)

Serves 6 to 8.

Whipped Cream Topping:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons cold water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the cold water in a small glass measuring cup and sprinkle with gelatin. Let the mixture soften for about 5 minutes.

In a chilled bowl beat the cream, confectioner's sugar and vanilla until it just holds its shape.

Melt the softened gelatin in the measuring cup in the microwave for 15 seconds and let cool slightly. Beating constantly, add the liquid gelatin to the whipped cream. Continue beating just until the gelatin is well combined.


juan wayne said...

Of the TWO Continentals witch ONE is BEST ?

miss scarlett said...

We have tried all the famous key lime pies that this country has to offer. We even tried it throughout the FL. Keys. There are a lot of good ones out there scattered all around the country, I must say. For our money, I would have to admit that we have decided to agree with Jimmy Buffett, that Kutchie Pelaez of the World Famous Kutcharitaville Cafe does indeed serve, "The World's Greatest Key Lime Pie". Like my friend Jimmy says, "Hands down, Kutchie's has the Best Key Lime Pie". I guess that's why they have been baking them for so many many years. Try the best of the best, Kutchie's Key Lime Pie. And you don't have to be a "Parrot-Head" to do it.

love you all,....Scarlett

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm Italian, but I live in the USA now, I have gotten two great things in this country, one is the I can buy viagra without prescription and the second is the the lime pie is really delicious, I have never tasted someone similar in anyplace!!!22dd

Willie Jordan said...

whoever was asking the question about just how good are the key lime pies that Anita Pelaez and her husband Kutchie bake at their key lime pie factory? Well, I'll tell you that they are the best key lime pies that we have ever ate. They surely put big smiles on everyone's faces around here. We order them all the time and wouldn't think of getting them from any other place. I hope that answered your question.


Jennie said...

The very beautiful and gorgeous former Miss North Carolina Anita Pelaez bakes the Best Key Lime Pies in The World with her Loving and Devoted Husband Kutchie Pelaez. Together the happy loving couple own The Anita's and Kutchie's Key Lime Pie Factory and Grill located near the Biltmore House and Estate in Asheville and have been baking their culinary de-lites for more than 30-years. With Anita at the Helm, It's known as Beauty and the Pies! They're have been fights over who gets their key lime pie first, that's just how delicious Anita's and Kutchie's pies are. Together the loving couple are well known as America's number one husband and wife married couple partner working team. known to work hand in hand. They stand-up strong side by side together producing America's Favorite Key Lime Pies. Voted America's Best 16-years for the past 16-years in a roll by the Country's largest Pie Council in New York City. If anyone is fortunate enough to try their pie, they will quickly understand why the Pelaez's have won so many awards for baking the Country's Best Key Lime Pies! Your first bite will remove any doubts you may have previously held about just how fantastic a great key lime pie could be. That's all it took to make believers out of our whole family. We are all junkies when it comes to Anita's and Kutchie's Key Lime Pies. If that's against the law then we plead guilty your honor.

This is no "Pie in the Sky Fairy Tale." It is a True Love Story. Kutchie and Anita couldn't just be Friends because the Pies Kept Getting in The Way. And that's a very good thing for us all.

Thank you Anita and Kutchie for baking this world a sweeter place to live. Everyone loves you guys and your key lime pies. Please keep the ovens baking.