In Florida, Debate Over Origins of Key Lime Pie Strikes a Nerve

One cookbook claims it might not have been invented in Key West after all, but Floridians aren't convinced. 

Key Lime Pie
Photo: JMichl/Getty Images

It’s generally accepted common knowledge that the Key lime pie was invented in Key West, Florida, where the key limes needed to achieve its signature tart taste grow in abundance. However, evidence has emerged to suggest that Floridians aren’t actually responsible for the inception of the iconic dessert. In fact, it might originate from a much more surprising place: A milk company. Now, Key West residents are rallying to disprove the theory.

As the Miami Herald reports, Stella Parks, author of BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts (and winner of a 2018 James Beard Foundation award) conjectures that the Borden milk company actually invented the recipe in order to sell more sweetened condensed milk, a crucial ingredient in Key lime pie. Parks writes that the first recipe for Key lime pie was written in a Borden test kitchen in New York City in 1931, as a riff on the company’s Magic Lemon Cream Pie.

Naturally, residents of Key West aren’t too happy with Parks’ claim.

One David Sloan, author of The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook, posted a message to his Facebook page, asking for residents to dig up old Key lime pie recipes dating back farther than the thirties, in order to disapprove Parks’ theory about Borden. He has a much different story about how the pie came to be: According to Sloan, a cook known as Aunt Sally, who worked for Florida millionaire William Curry in the mid-1800s, invented the pie for her boss.

So far, though, Sloan can only produce a local recipe for Key lime pie dated from 1939. Meanwhile, Parks, who consulted with local historians, didn’t find one from earlier than 1949. In fact, Parks has heard the Aunt Sally story too—and chalks it up to nothing more than a local legend.

By the way, the Miami Herald did an investigation of its own and the oldest Key lime pie recipe the newspaper found in its archives is dated at 1933. So maybe Parks’ theory is right after all. Just don’t tell that to any Floridians you might know.

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