The Mysterious Origin Of Key Lime Pie

Turns out the official state pie of Florida may not be from Florida at all.

Heavenly Key Lime Pie
Photo: Jennifer Davick

Don't panic, Southerners, but we have some news about Key lime pie. Turns out the official state pie of Florida may not be from Florida at all, but * gasp * New York City.

New York City website Gothamist reports that there is an ongoing controversy surrounding the origins of the beloved lime tart. It all started when Stella Parks published her cookbook, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, which included diving into the pie's history.

While researching her book, Parks consulted with Key West historian Tom Hambright, who couldn't find a local recipe for Key lime pie earlier than 1949, reports the Miami Herald.

Parks, though, found a nearly-identical recipe that dates back to 1931. While the recipe she found uses lemons instead of limes, it's the same idea of a sweetened condensed milk citrus pie. However, the dessert wasn't created in the Sunshine State, but by the Borden condensed milk company in New York City. Thanks to a wave of advertising by the condensed milk company, the recipe for Magic Lemon Cream Pie most likely made its way to Florida sometime in the 1930s and ‘40s. There canny pie makers modified the recipe, swapping lemons for Key West's sweet-tart limes.

WATCH: Heavenly Key Lime Pie

There's an old story floating around Key West that Key lime pie was invented back in the 1890s—way before the Borden company's recipe—by a woman known only as "Aunt Sally". She allegedly concocted the pie in the kitchens of Key West's Curry Mansion, where she had access to sweetened condensed milk. However, according to the Miami Herald that story has never been verified.

While Parks' cookbook won a prestigious James Beard Award, it also won the ire of some Key lime enthusiasts, most notably David Sloan, the author of the 2013 book The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook and the man behind Key West's annual Key Lime Festival. Sloan wasn't willing to accept Parks' Key lime pie origin story.

Unwilling to go down without a fight for his beloved pie, Sloan, the Key lime booster, took to Facebook seeking help to defend the honor of Florida's state pie.

Sloan told the Key West Citizen that he has historical documents that show that Aunt Sally is very real and that she definitely had access to condensed milk earlier than the 1930s. He also believes that Borden may have gotten the recipe for Magic Lemon Cream Pie through a recipe contest they held in 1931 simply swapping lemons for hard-to-find Key limes.

If you have a story, do your part to keep Key lime pie as a Southern treat.

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  1. Gothamist. Key lime pie, the state pie of Florida, may have originated in NYC.

  2. Miami Herald. Is Key lime pie really a Keys invention?

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