The Controversy Behind the Origins of Florida's Key Lime Pie

L. Cane

Key lime pie is a beloved dessert in Florida. In March 2022, the city of Key West declared it their official dessert, and it's been the official pie of Florida since 2006. (Strawberry shortcake was named Florida's official dessert in 2022.)

The Claim that Key Lime Pie Originated in Florida: Floridians have long claimed the dessert as their own. Until relatively recently, it was arguably accepted in the culinary world that Key Lime pie originated in the Florida Keys.

According to Food and Wine, David Sloan, author of The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook, believes that the original Key lime pie recipe came from a cook named "Aunt Sally," who worked for Florida's first self-made millionaire William Curry, in the mid-1800s. Allegedly, Aunt Sally made up the recipe for her boss.

Issues with the Aunt Sally Origin Story: As Southern Living points out, there is some question as to whether Aunt Sally would have had access to condensed milk at the time of her employment. The publication also says The Miami Herald couldn't verify the Aunt Sally story.

The New York Origin Story: Stella Parks is an award-winning chef and the author of BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts. Parks has said that she believes Key lime pie was invented in around 1931 in a New York test kitchen by the Borden company to sell more condensed milk. The pie then probably made its way down to Florida, where Floridians swapped limes for the lemons in the original recipe, according to Parks.

Rebuttals to the New York Origin Story: According to Southern Living, Sloan believes it's possible that the Borden company obtained the recipe from Florida from a recipe contest in 1931. In that case, both the Aunt Sally and the Borden test kitchen theories could be true. Sloan also told the Keys Citizen that he had historical documents proving that Aunt Sally not only existed, but had access to condensed milk.

Sloan also wrote an article for Keys Weekly in which he produced a 1926 menu from a Key West restaurant (the Green Lantern) which featured "lime pie" for ten cents.

Regardless of which version you believe, the Borden company has arguably contributed condensed milk to Key Lime pie recipes. And, Floridians have been making the beloved dish for quite a long time. Perhaps it doesn't matter where and when the recipe originated as long as so many get to enjoy it.

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