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How-To

The Key to a Great Lime Pie

To make the best version of this creamy-tangy pie, you don’t need Key limes—just juicy ones

Fine Cooking Issue 64
Photos: Scott Phillips
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I’ve heard many people complain that the problem with making a good Key lime pie is finding Key limes, especially ones in good condition. But whenever I suggest using regular limes to make this delicious pie, I hear, “Oh, it wouldn’t taste very good —not like a real Key lime pie!”

But you don’t have to use Key limes. I’ve made scores of Key lime pies over the years. And it turns out that regular limes (also known as Tahiti or Persian limes) make just as good a pie. Maybe this will convince you.

My husband, Carl, a horticulture professor who specializes in tropical fruit, has found the acid and sugar components to be quite similar in both Key and Tahiti limes. But Carl and I encountered so many skeptics—all of whom claimed they’d be able to tell the difference in a pie—that we decided to devise a dinner-party test where, for graduate students and colleagues, I made pies with both Key limes and Tahiti limes. We had guests try a piece of each and select which they liked best. In the more than twenty times that we did this, the votes were always tied.

My pie uses a true pie crust rather than a graham cracker crust. It’s my mother’s recipe, and it’s what I’ve always used. I think a traditional pie crust is much better at showing off the lime flavor, which is what this great pie is all about.

Lime choices

The limes we see most often in the grocery store are known as Tahiti or Persian limes. Choose limes that are about 2 inches in diameter, fragrant, and plump, with smooth, medium-green skin (like the large one at right in the photo). Stay away those that are rough-skinned, dark-green, and hard. If you can find good Key limes (like the ones at left and center in the photo), about 1-1/2 inches in diameter, with smooth greenish-yellow or yellow skin and a lovely lime aroma, go ahead and buy them—it will be a treat. But whatever you do, avoid bottled Key lime juice: The processing changes the flavor significantly.

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