Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.
About Those Key Limes
Key lime pie is often thought of as a summer pie, probably because it is so light and refreshing. Actually, citrus fruits come into season in the late autumn and early winter, so this is the perfect time to make a Key lime pie.
Ripe Key limes are yellow, not green. So the pie filling will be a pale, creamy yellow color. If you decide to use fresh Key limes, you can add an extra touch by putting a bit of lime zest into your pie filling.
Until recently, I used fresh Key limes. That is a lot of work, and helped me to understand why Key lime pie is expensive in restaurants — it is very labor intensive.
There is nothing wrong with using bottled Key lime juice. Just be sure to purchase the best you can get, and be sure it is not imitation juice or made from concentrate. It's just not worth it to compromise on flavor, and you can't be sure what is in all those imitation products. The brand I have found to be reliable is Nellie & Joe's Famous Key West Lime Juice. One bottle contains 16 ounces, enough to make two pies. If you use only half of the contents, be sure to keep the rest refrigerated.
Step 1: Make the Crust
- 1 and 1/4 cup Graham cracker crumbs (one of the individually wrapped packages of Graham crackers inside the box equals 1 1/4 cup)
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted (vegan butter works fine)
- Combine Graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. (If your crust doesn't hold together as well as you want, add a little more melted butter. We use vegan butter.
- Press this mixture into your pie plate.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 350°F. (It will be only partially baked.)
- Set aside to cool.
Homemade or Ready-Made Crust?
I no longer use ready-made Graham cracker pie crusts. The last few times I made this pie, I used a ready-made crust. Every single time, when I opened the package, the crust was broken. The filling would seep through the cracks and soak the crust from underneath, making for a soggy crust. So, I have returned to making my own pie crust.
Another plus to making my own is that it is easier to take a slice of pie from my glass pie pan than the aluminum foil pan the ready-made crusts are in, because the little folded-over edge of the foil pan is always a problem.
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Step 2: Make the Filling
I use Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk for this recipe, but you can use any sweetened, condensed milk. I use one can of the original formula and one can of fat-free. When I tried using two cans of the fat-free type, it produced a pie filling that would not become firm enough.
- 1 cup Key lime juice
- 2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk (see note above)
- In an electric mixer, combine milk and lime juice.
- Pour the mixture into the partially baked pie crust.
Step 3: Make the Meringue, Assemble, and Bake
This is a meringue with a twist. If you enjoy a smoother meringue, you will love it.
- 2 egg whites
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon Key lime juice
- In a glass or stainless steel bowl, beat egg whites at high speed until thick and foamy.
- Gradually add sugar, cream of tartar and lime juice while beating.
- Continue to beat on high speed until mixture will form peaks. Spread meringue over pie filling, being sure it completely covers the filling.
- Bake at 325°F for 25–30 minutes, depending on your oven. (This will finish baking the crust and turn the meringue a golden brown.)
- Chill for 8 hours before serving.
Just for Fun
On a road trip a few years ago, just for fun, Bo and I taste-tested Key lime pie all the way from Miami Beach to Key West and back. Some were very good, but not great. Some tasted as if the cook had simply put green food coloring into a bowl of Cool Whip! It was really bad. Another tasted as if they were serving those pies from the freezer section of the local grocery store.
Then We Visited Marker 88
Their pie was fantastic. The chef drizzled a bit of lime juice onto the plate, where it soaked into the crust. That was a nice touch which I have adopted. After that trip, I began experimenting, trying to develop the best Key lime pie recipe I could.
A few years later, we were back at Marker 88. They had a new chef who had changed the crust to a simple crust like the ones used in making apple pie — big mistake. It was just not the same. So I still make it with the traditional Graham cracker crust. Do that, and you can’t go wrong.
If you are interested, Marker 88 is located in the Florida keys at mile marker #88 on U.S. Hwy 1 in Islamorada, Florida. It isn’t seen from the highway, as it sits back in the trees. If you ever go there you will love it.
© 2021 MariaMontgomery