British Pie Week: A History of Key Lime Pie

British Pie Week: A History of Key Lime Pie

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Hurrah! It’s British Pie Week (6th – 12th March), the annual celebration of all things, gravy, flour and fat.

Let’s face it, what could beat a hearty pie on a chilly night? Did you know around 75% of folks enjoy a pie at least once a month?
To celebrate British Pie Week, we give you the lowdown on the history of the American favourite -Key Lime Pie. Did you know key lime pie, in contrast to apple pie, is a uniquely American pudding? Key West Florida is notorious for its awesome pie, one of America’s favourite regional dishes.

So, let’s dish the dirt on America’s best-loved pie…

The History

As legend goes, key lime pie was born in Key West near the end of the 1800s. William Curry, a ship salvager and Florida’s first millionaire, had a cook who was known as Aunt Sally whom created the first pie from key limes.

Sponge Fisherman
Another legend has it that key lime pie was first made by sponge fishermen who used to stay at sea for a fair while. Sponge fishing was a thriving trade in South Florida but the margins were thin so the supplies were skimpy on his boat – some eggs, sugar, canned milk, soda crackers, some nuts and citrus fruits. The delicious new pie became a big hit on long fishing trips and eventually, one of the fishermen shared the recipe with some women – maybe it was with Aunt Sally?!

When the 1930s rolled around, the first key lime pie recipe was recorded. Up until this point, folks just knew how this pie was made. During this time, no fridges, ice or milk were available in the Keys until tank trucks came on the scene with the opening of the Overseas Highway in 1930. Because there wasn’t any milk, local cooks used canned, sweetened condensed milk, which was concocted in 1856 by Gail Borden. While key limes may be the celebrated ingredient of the key lime pie, the sweetened condensed milk is what makes it so deliciously smooth.

Key Limes

The Spanish brought this fruit to Florida Keys in the 1500s. Smaller than a golf balls with yellow-green skin, key limes look like lemons, often with splotched brown skins. In 1926, a hurricane hit South Florida, destroying the key lime plantations. Instead, growers planted Persian limes which were easier to transport and pick. These days, the key lime is almost extinct, with any remaining trees found in back gardens, their fruits never leaving the Florida Keys.

A law was introduced by Florida State Representative Bernie Papy, Jr, whereby anyone caught marketing key lime pie not made using key limes would be fined $100. However, this bill didn’t pass.

Key Limes

Key lime pie became an important part of Florida – even by the Florida State Legislature! Although it’s not regarded by everyone as the state’s official pie. North Florida lawmakers have disputed whether pecan pie better reflects the state’s history, as pecans are grown in Florida too. But on 1st July 2006, key lime pie became Florida’s official pie.

What are the Traditional Ingredients of Key Lime Pie?

  • Key lime juice
  • Sweetened, condensed milk
  • Egg yolks

Did you know the above ingredients all cook themselves (without any heat) when they’re combined together? The eggs are what give the pie its extra body and traditional yellow hue.

Key Lime Pie Recipe

This zesty, oven-baked sweet delight makes a refreshing, indulgent finish to a meal. Here’s a great key lime pie recipe you can try to celebrate British Pie Week!

british pie week


  • Heat the oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3. Whizz the biscuits to crumbs in a food processor (or put in a strong plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin). Mix with the melted butter and press into the base and up the sides of a 22cm loose-based tart tin. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and cool.
  • Put the egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk for a minute with electric beaters. Add the condensed milk and whisk for 3 minutes then add the zest and juice and whisk again for 3 minutes. Pour the filling into the cooled base then put back in the oven for 15 minutes. Cool then chill for at least 3 hours or overnight if you like.
  • When you are ready to serve, carefully remove the pie from the tin and put on a serving plate. To decorate, softly whip together the cream and icing sugar. Dollop or pipe the cream onto the top of the pie and finish with extra lime zest.


  • 300g Hob Nobs
  • 150g butter, melted
  • 1 x 397g tin condensed milk (we used Nestlé)
  • 3 medium egg yolk
  • finely grated zest and juice of 4 limes
  • 300ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • extra lime zest, to decorate

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