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Key Lime Pie is described as:

"An American pie containing a lime-flavored custard topped with meringue. It takes its name from Key West, a seaport in Florida." ~ A Gourmet's Guide: Food and Drink from A to Z by John Ayto

Key Lime Pie
Cut-away view of a
traditional Key Lime Pie
Key Lime Pie
A slice of Key Lime Pie

However, there is a little more to Key Lime Pie than that.

Key Lime Pie is the official dessert of Key West. Restaurants around the country serve Key Lime Pie in many forms, some true to the original and some truly bizarre variations. Everyone has their favorite restaurant version, and usually their own favorite home version. Key limes are very sour, and Key lime juice can be used to make a perfect custardlike filling for pies. Because of the Keys isolation before the railroad was opened in 1912, fresh milk was hard to come by. So Gail Borden's invention of sweetened condensed (canned) milk in 1859 came in handy. It also meant that you could make a custard pie without the necessity of cooking it. The Key lime juice by itself was enough to curdle the condensed milk and egg yolks. No one knows who made the first one. They were probably made with pie crusts at first, but soon the Graham cracker crust became the standard.

See the article by James under Interesting Bites for information on the history of Key Limes.

The basic recipe for Key Lime Pie is simple, Key lime juice, egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk (preferably Borden's) and sugar, with a Graham cracker crust. Topped with meringue or whipped cream (voice your preference in Key West to start a long discussion of the merits and authenticity of each). The Key West Lime Pie Shop makes an eggless version for some restaurants and for mail order. Some restaurants make it with a pastry crust. Most now bake it to 160º because of the worry of salmonella in eggs. But no-one dyes it green. Key lime pie is deep yellow in color.

Key Lime Pie from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Key Lime Pie is a dessert made of key lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk in a pie crust. The pie is topped with meringue, then baked until the meringue is a golden brown. Some Key Lime Pies use other types of whipped toppings or none at all. The dish is named after the small Key limes (Citrus aurantifolia 'Swingle') that are naturalized throughout the Florida Keys. Their thorns make them less tractable, their thin yellow rind makes them more perishable, but they are more tart and aromatic than the common Persian limes seen year round in most US grocery stores.

Key Lime Pie is made with canned sweetened condensed milk, since fresh milk was not a common commodity in the Florida Keys before modern refrigerated distribution methods.

Key lime juice, unlike regular lime juice, is a pale yellow. The filling in key lime pie is also yellow, largely due to the egg yolks.

During mixing, a reaction between the condensed milk and the acidic lime juice occurs which causes the filling to thicken on its own without requiring baking. Many early recipes for Key Lime Pie did not instruct the cook to ever bake the pie, relying on this chemical reaction to produce the proper consistency of the filling. Today, in the interest of safety due to consumption of raw eggs, pies of this nature are usually baked for a short time. The baking also thickens the texture even more than the reaction alone.

As of July 1, 2006, Key Lime Pie is the Florida state pie.

Key Lime Pie :

Ingredients for Key Lime Pie

Graham Cracker Crust:
4 Cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Butter - melted

2 Cans Sweetened Condensed Milk - Borden's
1 Cup Key Lime Juice - fresh
8 Each Egg Yolks

8 Each Egg Whites *
1/2 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1/3 Cup Confectioner's Sugar

How ro make Key Lime Pie

Graham Cracker Crust:

  • Preheat oven to 350º F.
  • Mix the cracker crumbs, sugar and butter together.
  • Line a 9 inch pie tin with the cracker mix, pressing firmly to line bottom and sides.
  • Bake for 8 minutes at 350º F.


  • Whisk the condensed milk with the lime juice and egg yolks in a stainless steel bowl.
  • Pour into the pre-baked graham cracker shell.
  • Set aside while making the meringue.

Meringue: *

  • Beat the egg whites to a soft peak - add cream of tartar and continue to whip to a stiff peak.
  • Continue whipping and add the sugar, whipping until the meringue forms stiff peaks.
  • Decoratively add meringue on top of the custard.
  • Bake for 15 - 30 minutes at 350º F.
  • Cook until the meringue has good color.
  • Check with a wooden skewer or cake tester to be sure the custard is done.

Note: *

Be sure the bowl and whisk used to beat the egg whites is very clean, otherwise the egg whites will not form a stiff peak.

Serving Ideas:

Garnish Key Lime Pie with slice of lime.

Serves 6

© James T. Ehler, 2001
All rights reserved

Chef James EhlerThis recipe is from Chef James Ehler of Key West, Florida.

James is a webmaster, cook, chef, writer and (like me) a self-confessed computer nerd. He is the former executive chef of Martha's Steak & Seafood Restaurant and the former Reach Hotel (both in Key West), the Hilton Hotel in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and the New Bern Golf and Country Club, North Carolina.

He now works full-time on his Food Encyclopedia (five years so far) and his web site. It is well worth paying a visit to James' food reference website which is a useful resource well worth Bookmarking - to visit the website just click on the title:

The Food Reference Website