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Ain’t No Sunshine

Published September 6, 2022

We recently ran a round called “Ain’t No Sunshine” on National Cuban Sandwich day. You see, we got inspired about a sandwich that originated in Cuba but got big in Florida. So, we wrote up a bunch of two-part questions on things that followed the same pattern. Check out this Key Lime Pie shit.

Chef and cookbook author Stella Parks may still want to hold off on vacationing in the Florida Keys. In 2018, in her James Beard Award-winning book BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, she suggested that Florida’s iconic Key Lime Pie was actually invented in — gasp! — New York City. 

According to Parks, the Borden Milk Company actually developed a similar citrus-based recipe in 1931 as a way to market their canned condensed milk, which is one of the crucial ingredients in any Key Lime Pie. “It’s my belief that in Florida cooks encountered this national advertising campaign in 1931, and adapted the recipe to the Key limes growing wild in their backyards,” Parks told VICE at the time. “This would have been a vast improvement, as sour limes have a flavor, acidity, and aroma better suited to cutting through the richness and sweetness of canned milk, thereby bringing the pie into balance. 

“On its own, Borden’s Magic Lemon Pie would have faded from existence like any other fad, but this smart adaptation from Florida bakers put it on the map, where it became a local specialty that grew in popularity over the decades to follow, leading to the tremendous national attention it would receive from the 1950s onward.”

But David Sloan, the author of The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook and founder of the island’s Key Lime Festival, really, really took issue with Parks’ assertions. Sloan — and a lot of Keys residents — believe that Key Lime Pie was actually created by the cook for a Florida millionaire, a woman who’s referred to in local legend as “Aunt Sally.” In that story, Aunt Sally was cranking out Key Lime Pies as early as the 1880s. 

“The most compelling published evidence supporting Key lime pie’s Key West origins appears on page 2-C of the Aug. 25,1939 Miami Herald,” Sloan wrote in the Keys Weekly. “The ‘Lime Pie’ recipe includes eggs, lime juice, condensed milk, a baked pie shell and meringue topping. After the baking instructions it says, ‘This recipe has been used in the Blackwell family (Key West) for more than a half century.’”  Not everyone is as invested in the pie point-scoring as Sloan is. “It’s not going to break my heart if it turns out it was invented somewhere else,” author and historian Arlo Haskell told the Miami Herald. “Everyone thinks of Key West when they think of Key lime pie today. We’ve staked our claim to it already.”

Featured image courtesy of: Kimberly Vardeman, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0