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March–Key (to the Highway) Lime Pie


The cloth is from a huge open-air market in Accra.

The cloth is from a huge open-air market in Accra.

I picked this pie for March with a nod to St. Patrick’s Day because when we think of limes, we think–GREEN.

Except key limes are yellow and that’s part of the story behind Key Lime Pie. It’s an American classic, and like many great recipes is a result of making do with the ingredients at hand. Key limes are unpromising little things, smaller than golf balls, and probably introduced to the Florida Keys when the Spanish came in the 1500s. Sweetened condensed milk is used because before the 1930s, the Keys had no fresh milk, no refrigeration, and no ice. Canned sweetened condensed milk had been around since 1856 and was a great boon to dessert-lovers.

“Key to the Highway” is a great blues song. I doubt whether the highway to the Keys is the one the song’s creators had in mind, but that road does lead south–about as far south as one can go in the US.

You will probably not be able to get key limes; they are even hard to find in Florida now. But the pie turns out great with ordinary grocery-store limes. 


1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs = 9 whole (rectangular) crackers

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup butter

Mix the crumbs, butter, and sugar with your fingers till it’s all very well blended and looks like damp sand. Press it into your pie pan, working it up the sides with your fingers or the back of a spoon. Use your thumb to make a smooth edge at the top. Bake it for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Let it cool while you make the filling. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

You can use a grocery-store graham cracker crust instead—you’ll find them in the aisle with boxed cake mixes.


5 egg yolks

1 cup sweetened condensed milk

½ cup lime juice = 4 medium limes

1 teaspoon grated lime rind = 2 limes

Grate the rind before you cut the limes in half to squeeze them. It’s much easier to keep a good grip on a whole lime. Beat the egg yolks till they are light yellow. Add the other ingredients slowly and beat on lower speed just to mix. Pour the mixture into the crust and bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Let it cool while you make the topping. Turn the oven up to 425 degrees.

Meringue topping:

5 egg whites

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Beat the egg whites till they are frothy. Add the sugar and cream of tartar a little at a time, continuing to beat till the whites are very stiff.

Meringue can be a challenge to make. Be sure that your bowl and beaters are perfectly clean and that your egg whites are room temperature. If there are any specks of yolk or shell in the whites, it will be hard to get them stiff and you might have to beat them a very long time. You can pick yolk and shell out with a spoon or the corner of a paper towel.

Cover the pie with the meringue, making sure that it comes all the way to the edges. Otherwise it will shrink while cooking and you will have bare spots. Bake the pie at 425 degrees for 5 to 15 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned. Oven temperatures vary greatly so keep your eye on things to monitor how brown the pie is getting.

Chill the pie before serving.

Next month: Custard Pie

PeggyMarch–Key (to the Highway) Lime Pie