Classic Key Lime Pie

Did you know that Key Lime Pie is an uniquely American dessert? Key West, Florida, is famous for its fabulous Key Lime Pie, one of America’s best-loved regional dishes. Every restaurant in the Florida Keys, and especially in the city of Key West, serves this wonderful pie. There seems to be numerous versions of Classic Key Lime Pie made throughout the region. This pie is considered the official pie of the Florida Keys. The traditional or Classic Key Lime Pie filling contains key lime juice, sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolks.

classic key lime

Not Green

Almost every family in Florida has a recipe for Key Lime Pie and they all claim it’s the only authentic version. Aficionados of Key Lime Pie argue endlessly about the proper way to make one. Graham-cracker or pastry crust? Meringue on top or whipped cream, or neither?  Cooked or uncooked filling?  The one thing that they do agree on is that under no circumstances should you ever add green food coloring. The filling of authentic Key Lime Pie is a light yellow, not green. Another point to remember…This may seem like a no brainer but regardless it should be pointed out. Key Lime Pie is made with KEY LIME JUICE and key lime zest Only!! No ands, ifs, or buts about it.

classic key lime

History of Key Lime Pie

As to who made the first Key Lime Pie, no one really knows for sure as it has never been documented. William Curry (1821-1896), a ship salvager and Florida’s first self-made millionaire (commonly referred to as rich Bill), had a cook that was simply know as Aunt Sally.  It was Aunt Sally who created the pie in the late 1800s.  Some historians think that Aunt Sally didn’t create the Key Lime Pie, but probably perfected a delicacy that was the creation of area fishermen.

William Curry built a lavish mansion for his family in 1855 that still is being used today as the Curry Mansion Inn. It is said that Aunt Sally already knew how to make a lemon ice box pie which also uses sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks. Instead of lemons, she used the readily available local key limes.

classic key lime

Sponge Fishermen

Another theory is that a sponge fishermen around Key West used to stay at sea for quite a while. Sponge fishing was a booming new business in South Florida but the margins were slim. The rations were meager on the boat,  some sugar, eggs, canned milk, soda crackers, nuts, and citrus fruit.  Word spread quickly among the fisherman about a pie that was made using the very ingredients they had onboard. That pie was called; Key Lime Pie. It soon became a staple onboard  fishing trips.

classic key lime

Sweetened Condensed Milk

It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the first recipes for Key Lime Pie were written down. Until then everyone just knew how to make the pie. No fresh milk, no refrigeration, and no ice was available in the Keys until the arrival of tank trucks. Because of the lack of fresh milk and lack of refrigeration, local cooks had to rely on canned sweetened condensed milk. Which of course was invented in 1856 by Gail Borden. Key limes may be the star ingredient of  Key Lime Pie, but it is the sweetened condensed milk that makes it so smooth and creamy.

Key Lime Facts

The key lime tree, which is native to Malaysia, probably first arrived in the Florida Keys in the 1500s with the Spanish. Key limes look like under developed lemons, as they are smaller than a golf ball with yellow-green skin. They are also know as Mexican or West Indian limes. In 1926, a hurricane destroyed the key lime plantations in South Florida. Growers replanted with Persian limes, which are easier to pick and to transport.  Today the key limes can be found in back yards and their fruit is used by Florida Keys home cooks. Key limes are grown in the Miami area for commercial use and can be found in specialty supermarkets throughout the country.

Official Florida State Pie

Key Limes are considered the Pink Flamingos of Florida food, meaning they are a symbol of Florida. They are celebrated for their uniqueness to the area. The Florida State Legislature officially recognized Key Lime Pie as an important symbol of Florida. Key Lime Pie became the official Florida State Pie as of July 1, 2006.

Key Lime Recipes

Bottled Key Lime Juice

When we make key lime anything we use authentic key lime juice that we purchase online. Way up here in northern WI, key limes aren’t always available and quite frankly, neither is key lime juice. Every once in a great while Walmart will carry key lime juice but not all the time. To alleviate any headaches if I can’t find authentic key lime juice here in the north woods, I prefer to order it online.

The two brands that we use the most in our key lime recipes are: Kermits Key Lime Juice and Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Juice. One more thing that I’d like to point out here, is my grandson Eliott, seen in the photos above, requested a key lime pie. I always keep a few ready made graham cracker crusts (BAMA) for this this exact reason. I prefer the real deal, graham cracker crust made with Honey Maid Graham Crackers but sometimes ready made fills in nicely too.

Classic Key Lime Pie

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  • 1 1/2 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
  • 1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
  • 6 tbsp Butter
  • 2 14 oz. cans Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 6 Egg Yolks
  • 1/2 cup Key Lime Juice
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons grated lime zest, optional


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees..
  • Mix graham cracker crumbs, 1/3 cup sugar and butter in small bowl.
  • Pour mixture into 9 inch pie pan pressing firmly on bottom and up the sides of the pan.
  • Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees
  • Blend sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks at slow speed until smooth.
  • Add Key Lime Juice slowly while blending thoroughly.
  • Blend in lime zest if using.
  • Pour into pie crust.
  • Bake in oven 15 minutes. Let pie cool for 20 minutes before refrigerating. Best if chilled 8-10 hours before serving.
  • Top with whipped cream and lime zest, if using
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