Key limes originated in Southeast Asia then were subsequently cultivated in North Africa, the Middle East and Spain. They have been grown in the Florida Keys since the 1500s, when Spanish explorers were trading in the Carribean and Americas. Now you can find Key limes in Florida as well as many other regions — Mexico, California, Texas and parts of Central America.
Key limes are small, dotted with a few brown spots, yellowish as opposed to green, and packed with flavor. After tasting the traditional Persian lime (the darker green ones you find year-round in most groceries) alongside the Key lime, it was clear that the Key limes were more tart, yet also more sweet. They had more flavor all around and I can see why they are the star of such a classy dessert.
I was also surprised at how easy the pie was to assemble. Requiring only a handful of ingredients and minimal effort (compared to other pie treats), it is a great addition to any dessert table. I think it would balance out a pumpkin or pecan pie perfectly. The citrus zest leaves your palate alert and inspired. I love it plain, but often it's served with a meringue topping or whipped cream.
Key Lime Pie
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup Key lime juice, from about 12 limes
2 teaspoons Key lime zest
Whipped cream for garnish (optional)
Heat oven to 375°F. Grease an 8 or 9-inch pie or tart pan. Place graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl, stirring until combined. Dump this sand-like mixture into the tart pan and press evenly to create a thin crust. Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
Lower oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, mix together the lime juice, zest, egg yolks and condensed milk. Pour into crust and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool on a wire rack and refrigerate until serving.
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)