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When Life Gives You Key Limes: Pandemic Key Lime Pie Recipe

Unlock a priceless skilled trade! Honestly, I did not mean to learn a new skill in 2020, but fortunately, my new skill is unmarketable. The last thing I wanted to do is learn a new grind. Fortunately, the new trick I learned has proven a great way to unwind: making the perfect Midwestern pandemic-style Key lime pie!

I already love to bake, and my favorite baked goods are those you could never buy in a store because nobody would pay for the time and fine ingredients they require. Like my husband's loaf of all-day, no-knead bread with $8 worth of cheese inside. Maybe that would fly in Italy, but not here. Americans are like, "OoH tHat'S sO expEnsIvE!" and then they go and spend $8 on one mixed drink that tastes like mouthwash and melted popsicles.

Now, I know that there are some fancy Florida crackers who would mock my family’s poor taste because we make our pies the old-timey way, with canned milk instead of fresh cream. But I think our recipe is the perfect balance of authentic and apocalyptic-Yankee-pantry-in-a-pandemic.

We stock up on shelf-stable ingredients so that whenever we can get our hands on farm-fresh eggs and some genuine Key limes from somebody's Florida backyard or some Mexican limas dulces, which are hard to source up here because they don't travel easily, we can act quickly to transport ourselves on a spontaneous culinary spring break. We prefer to make two pies at a time (the maximum number we can fit into our home oven), one to keep and one to give as a very special gift to someone else whose mouth could use a tropical vacation. Here is our recipe: 

Pandemic Key Lime Pie

Ingredients:

  • one Diamond of California pecan pie crust
  • four farm-fresh eggs, as in straight out the chicken butt, unrefrigerated or brought up to room temp (my husband sources ours from a coworker with a nearby small farm)--this is the first secret to homemade meringue
  • 1 can sweetened, condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup confectioner's or powdered sugar
  • enough Key limes / limas dulces to squeeze 1/3 cup juice (about 1/2 pound fresh fruit)
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • the energy of a growing girl + the muscles of a man who works with his hands--this is the second secret to homemade meringue
  • the sassy knowing-it-all of Mark Bittman in his classic cookbook How to Cook Everything
  • the sassy gumption to tweak Mark Bittman's recipe

Recipe:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Pop the plastic cover off the crust and set it on a sheet tray.
  3. Separate the egg yolks and whites into two squeaky-clean glass mixing bowls.
  4. Beat the yolks together.
  5. Beat in the milk.
  6. Slowly beat in the lime juice until the filling is silky smooth.
  7. Pour the filling into the crust and bake 15 minutes. Set the pie on the tray on a countertop to cool slightly.
  8. With a squeaky-clean hand beater or whisk, beat the well-rested egg whites with the pinches of salt and cream of tartar as hard as you can. Give your daughter and your husband each a turn. Compete with each other to show off who can whip those whites the fastest. Keep taking turns, gradually adding the sugar until it looks like it could make a fine hat and beard for a baby in a bubble bath.
  9. Dump the meringue onto the pie, gently using a spatula to spread it over the whole surface. Let your daughter make a fun little landscape of peaks and bloops and blips in the meringue.
  10. Bake another 15 minutes.
  11. Let cool for a few minutes, then chill in the fridge.
  12. Very carefully, transport the prettiest one to Grandma's porch or unto the realm of someone else you love.
  13. Eat the other one with your husband and daughter, at your beat-up old dining table. Revel in the exquisite balance of flavor and texture. Save at least one slice each to have for breakfast tomorrow morning.


Buen provecho!

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