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Key Lime Pie

by Jane Worthington-Roth

I have a sort of love-hate relationship with key limes that began many, many years ago. It all started when my husband (my boyfriend at the time) came home with a gigantic bag of key limes. As it turns out, a coworker had given him the fruit, which had been shipped to her from a relative in Florida. My husband was so happy with the gift - his coworker knew that Key Lime Pie is his favorite type of pie.

Being originally from Massachusetts, I wasn't familiar at all with key limes. I had never seen one, tasted one, nor had I ever tasted a key lime pie. To make it worse, I am not a baker and so I rarely ever bake pies. I was in for a rude awakening.

My husband has always said that a key lime pie should be simple and unadulterated. He shuns any attempt to "dress it up" with even a dollop of fresh whipped cream, or - God forbid - meringue topping.

So, I started my initiation into key lime pies. I decided to surprise my husband by making a key lime pie the next afternoon while he was at work. The recipe I had was so simple: a graham cracker crust, key lime juice, sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks.

I squeezed enough limes to get a half cup of juice and made the pie. When it came out of the oven, I couldn't resist dipping my finger in to get my first taste of what my husband considers dessert nirvana. Yuck. There must be something wrong with the recipe! Pies are supposed to be sweet, or slightly tart like a Lemon Meringue Pie - but this was mouth-puckering! I tossed it in the trash. Luckily I still had most of the gigantic bag of key limes.

Round two - same result. Another pie tossed into the trash! I was upset and disheartened, but decided to give it one more try, scouring other recipes for clues.

My husband came home just as my third attempt at key lime pie was coming out of the oven. I was near tears for failing to make his favorite pie. He gave it a quick try and absolutely beamed - I had nailed it perfectly! What had happened is that I had no idea how tart this custardy pie should taste - all of my attempts were actually perfectly classic key lime pies.

Since that day, I've made many key lime pies with great success. Just the other day we had company over for dinner, and a friend who is originally from Alabama was overjoyed with my key lime pie, saying that it reminded her of the ones her grandfather used to make down south. The ultimate compliment!

Classic Key Lime Pie

1¼ cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons melted butter
*½ cup key lime juice (about 12 key limes)
Zest from 5 key limes (finely grated using a microplane)
15 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
3 large egg yolks

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Put the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter into a medium bowl and stir to combine. Put the crumb mixture into a 9 inch pie plate and press to spread out evenly on the bottom and up the sides.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a bowl, blend together the lime juice, zest, sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks. Pour this custard into the prepared graham cracker crust and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes until set.

* Key limes are usually packaged in mesh bags that contain about 18 limes. I purchase two bags (which is enough for 3 key lime pies). I freeze premeasured amounts for future use. Each key lime pie generally uses the juice from 12 limes and the zest from 5. This amount can be saved in snack size ziplock bags.