Key Lime Pie

Originals, Pie, Southern, Summer / Friday, August 5th, 2011

I wish I’d been there to see it.

This morning, Mama drove to Starbucks at the crack of dawn to join her gang of teacher-friends in waving at the school buses as they rolled past. The kids are back at school, so today is Mama’s first real day of retirement.

When I was a teenager, she’d drive me and my sister to school with her, blaring Southern gospel music and singing at the top of her lungs. My staring-out-the-window-willing-myself-to-disappear silence didn’t phase her, either. She was happy. Mama didn’t complain on Sunday night about work on Monday. She loved her job – the place, the people, everything. So, when she told us last February that she was retiring, I was shocked. Floored. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited.

It’s time for her to have a new beginning. She’s provided for plenty of mine, including that first one. Ouch!

Several years ago, Mama and Daddy saved to send me and my sister, Jennifer, on a graduation trip to Key West. The day before we were supposed to board the plane, I broke up with my boyfriend and convinced myself that I couldn’t leave town. I needed to stay home and make mix-tapes of songs about heartbreak and cry and probably take that boy back.

Mama took one look at my puffy, splotchy, tear-stained face, handed me a Kleenex and pulled my suitcase out from under the bed.

I told her I just couldn’t go. The trip would be a waste, because all I was going to do was cry.

She nodded, walked over to my closet and started packing my bag.

Forty-eight hours later, I was sitting at a beachside café with the Key West sand between my toes, sharing a wedge of Key Lime Pie with my sister.

My hair was wet, but my eyes were dry.

Now, Key Lime Pie tastes like new beginnings to me, sweet with promise and tart with adventure, and that makes sense, since key limes themselves have been present for so many fresh starts. When Columbus came to the New World, he brought key limes with him. Just after the Civil War, when sweetened condensed milk came to an almost milk-free Key West, it didn’t take long for people to combine this new invention with key lime juice to make a new pie – one that could be “cooked” without turning on the oven (since the acid in the lime juice thickened the filling on its own). And, during the Great Depression, key limes helped save Key West as Florida started marketing the area to tourists, promising visitors lots of sun, sand and their first taste of Key Lime Pie.

As Jennifer and I shared our slice, we talked about my break-up, her new boyfriend, school, work, the mixed-up waiter who kept serving her drinks and carding me, and why we’d never done this before. By the time we’d split the last bite of graham cracker crust, she wasn’t just my sister, she was someone I could hang out with. A friend.

Which came in handy when she was stuck with the bar tab.

The night we touched down in Nashville, I was ready to start fresh – and hug my mama.

There are people who teach and people who are teachers. Mama will always be a teacher.

I guess that’s why I’m so excited about her retirement. I get to cheer on her new adventure. If going to work made Mama break into “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” there’s no telling what retirement will do.

Watch out, world. Mama’s on the loose.

Key Lime Pie

Rebecca Crump (

Makes one 9-inch pie

  • 1 Graham Cracker Crust (recipe below), prebaked
  • 4 egg yolks
  • Grated zest of 1 or 2 key limes (optional)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup key lime juice (depending on how tart you like your pie), fresh or bottled
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or a hand mixer), beat the egg yolks and lime zest (if using) for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the condensed milk, and combine well.
  4. Slowly add the lime juice. When the lime juice is thoroughly incorporated, turn off the mixer. Let the mixture set at room temperature for about 5 minutes, until the filling thickens.
  5. Pour the filling into the crust.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the filling appears set but still wobbly. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Cover with loosely tented foil (or slip the pie into a pie keeper), and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before slicing. (If you accidentally touch something to the surface of the pie and mess up the finish, don’t sweat it. That’s why God made whipped cream.)
  7. For the Whipped Cream: Pour the heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer, and add the confectioners’ sugar. Whip on low speed to combine, and then increase the speed to medium-high. Whip until medium-stiff peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes.
  8. Serve pie topped with whipped cream, and garnish with a little grated lime zest.

Graham Cracker Crust

Makes one 9-inch crust

  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (ground fine from 12 large graham crackers)
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter your pie plate, and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar and salt.
  3. Add the melted butter and mix thoroughly, first with a fork and then with your fingers. (If the mixture seems too sandy, wet your fingertips under running water, and keep mixing.)
  4. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom and up the sides of your pie plate.
  5. Bake for 8 minutes.
  6. Cool the crust on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before filling.

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One thought on “Key Lime Pie

  1. […] sweet food photography. I like it best when she shares stories with her recipes – like this recipe for key lime pie*. Rebecca also wrote a sweet hot guest post for me on Nashville hot chicken after I had my […]

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