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Chicago has its deep-dish pizza, Boston’s claim to culinary fame is baked beans, New York is renowned for its hot dogs and no one should leave New Orleans without a generous tasting of gumbo, all delicious and memorable, but hail to Florida’s official pie — the delectable, the incomparable and memorable key lime pie.
We’ve all made lemonade out of lemons. A cook helping feed the workmen on the Overseas Highway made key lime pie out of the humble lime. During the Depression, workmen began the highway as part of the economic recovery program. The government issued surplus food supplies and one of the cooks received a large shipment of sweetened condensed milk. It was cloying sweet and, in order to make into palatable custard, the chef added the juice from plentiful Key limes. To further enrich the concoction, he added egg yolks, poured the mixture into a pie shell and finished it off with the egg whites beaten into meringue. Thus was born the key lime pie, esteemed by gourmets, epicureans, gourmands and just plain folks.
Limes were revered long before they were discovered in our Florida Keys. Nineteenth-century British sailors were nicknamed “limeys” because of the quantity of the fruit they consumed to ward off scurvy. The practice of giving limes to men at sea was actually a law. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 required that one ounce of lime or lemon juice be given to all crew members after the ship had been at sea for 10 days. To make the sour dosage more palatable, it was combined with potent West Indian rum, guaranteed to ward off more than scurvy.
Nutritionists recognize lime as an important source of vitamin C. Because the body does not store this vitamin, a fruit or vegetable high in C should be ingested daily. Vitamin C helps promote quick healing of broken bones and wounds.
Limes may be substituted for salt and butter in health-conscious recipes. Tasty and healthy, there are only 3 calories per juicy squeeze.
Florida is the top producer of limes in the country. There are two major varieties: the green Persian or Tahiti lime, and the small, yellow key lime. An average Persian lime supplies about 4 teaspoons of juice; the small, tart key limes, about 1 tablespoon. Natives of Key West and surrounding Keys are purists about their key lime pie. Only the yellow key limes are considered appropriate for the pie. The Persian limes are commercially grown and do not contain as much pectin, which insures a firm custard filling.
In recent years, cooks and especially pastry chefs have attempted to improve on the traditional key lime pie by adding whipped cream, creating fancy pie crusts, adding various fruits or eliminating the meringue, much to the distress of true key lime pie purists. A true key lime pie aficionado avoids partaking of these fakes.
Every Florida cook should have the recipe for the genuine key lime pie, but for those watching their calories and cholesterol, I am also including a low-fat version of the pie.
The Real Key Lime Pie
3 eggs, separated
1 can sweetened condensed milk
¾ cup key lime juice
1 9-inch baked pie crust
■ Beat egg yolks lightly and add sweetened condensed milk and blend well.
■ Add lime juice and beat until smooth.
■ Pour mixture into a baked pastry shell, top with meringue and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for about 12 minutes or until meringue is brown. (This also cooks the eggs.)
■ Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry.
■ Add 2 teaspoons sugar, beating constantly.
■ Swirl on top of lime filling and bake as directed. Serves 6 to 8.
Yogurt Key Lime Pie
32-ounce carton vanilla-flavored low-fat yogurt
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup key lime juice, or more to taste
■ The day before preparing the pie, place the yogurt in a sieve lined with cheesecloth or use a similar commercial product such as the Really Creamy Yogurt Cheese Funnel (available at cookware stores). Place over a bowl, set in the refrigerator and allow to drain 4 to 24 hours, until cheese is the consistency of cream cheese.
■ Place the yogurt cheese in a medium bowl and add sugar and key lime juice. Blend carefully with fork or wire whisk.
■ Pour into a pie pan for a non-crust pie or use a graham cracker crust, if desired. Chill 24 hours before serving. Serves 6 to 8.
Q: I grew up in rural Indiana next door to my grandmother and grandfather. My grandfather loved to bake and I used to help him make cookies. My favorite was called jumble. I hope you can find a recipe so I can make them for my grandchildren.
— Lucy Potter, Naples
A: Not only did I find the recipe but found this interesting information: The cookie was named for the nuts “jumbled” up in the dough. These simple cookies were among the first American cookies, going back to 1827. The first printed recipe appeared in Lettice Bryan’s “The Kentucky Housewife” in 1839 and was called “common jumbles” made into rings and did not contain nuts. This information and recipe came from “The American Encyclopedia of Food and Drink” by John Mariani.”
■ Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
■ Blend ½ cup butter with 2 cups flour.
■ Blend in 2 beaten eggs, ½ cup grated coconut and ¾ cup walnuts. Make a stiff dough.
■ Drop by teaspoon, onto a buttered baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
Doris Reynolds is the author of “Let’s Talk Food” and “When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet Was Fried.” They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a 4-part DVD, “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds.” Contact Doris Reynolds at email@example.com.