The Origin Of Key Lime Pie May Shock You

For many Floridians, the story of key lime pie is as easy as, well, pie. Britannica explains that key lime pie originated in the 19th century in Key West, Florida, a place where sun and citrus abound. Since its inception, the pie has become a large part of Florida's culinary identity, with an abundance of key lime pie shops and bakeries in existence all over Key West and beyond, per Destination Daydreamer. In fact, key lime pie has become so popular in the Sunshine State that it was named the official pie of Florida in 2006.

Fans of key lime pie tend to appreciate the dessert for providing a mix of creaminess from sweetened condensed milk, a unique texture due to its crumbly graham cracker crust, and a bright tartness brought on by its essential ingredient of fresh key limes. However, the story of key lime pie may be more ambiguous than previously thought. As Food & Wine shares, it turns out that key lime pie may not have its roots in Florida after all. More than that, it seems the original iteration of the famed dessert didn't actually contain limes, but lemons.

Key lime pie's true beginnings

Recently award-winning food writer Stella Parks unearthed the secret behind key lime pie's history (via Food & Wine). Notably, Parks performed extensive research about the pie for her book, "BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts," and during this period, she began noticing discrepancies in local folklore and family stories. Most importantly, Parks noted the absence of any key lime pie recipe from any Florida cookbooks before 1949. The problem with that? If the pie existed in the late 1800s in Florida, there surely would have been some sort of record of it.

But Parks found nothing. No recipes, no photographic evidence, zilch. Instead, Parks traced Florida's favorite dessert to an unexpected place. She found a 1931 recipe from Borden Dairy, located in New York City, that was seemingly based on the company's Magic Lemon Cream Pie. The spinoff recipe, which is nearly identical to modern-day key lime pie, was likely part of an effort by Borden Dairy to sell more of their sweetened condensed milk to home cooks.

In the key lime pie community, Parks' discovery is a contentious one. Some naysayers think the author skipped out on research, while other sources have argued against her findings and produced Florida key lime pie recipes dating back to as early as 1933. And while there's no doubt that even if the pie didn't originate in Florida, Florida is where key lime pie has flourished, some key lime devotees aren't putting a fork in the issue just yet.