In ‘A Gourmet's Guide: Food and Drink from A to Z’ by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, 1993), 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."
There is a little more to it than that.
It 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 custard-like 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.
The basic recipe 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 160 degrees because of the worry of salmonella in eggs. But no one dyes it green. Key lime pie is deep yellow in color.
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