From Hookers to High Society: David Sloan’s “Key Lime Pie Hole” - A group of people sitting around a table - Key lime pie
Key West’s society ladies spread gossip about Aunt Sally and her working class desserts in this photo from library archives. MONROE COUNTY LIBRARY HERITAGE HOUSE COLLECTION/Contributed

Food writers love to belittle the origins of Key lime pie by repeating the outdated belief that the first published recipe for Key lime pie appeared in a 1949 Key West Woman’s Club cookbook. 

Stella Parks took this approach in her book “BraveTart,” and the bad intel spread across the Internet like artificial whipped topping on a pie in July (not unlike the bad intel spread by the movie “Braveheart”…). 

Nobody mentions that we’ve found an “Aunt Sally” who fits all the criteria placed on the dessert’s originator. 

Nobody mentions the Miami Herald recipe 13 years prior to the 1949 cookbook that states, “Such are the enchanting lime pies of the Florida Keys, a Conch contribution to American cookery worthy of the cordon bleu.” 

Nobody mentions that lime pie was listed on a 1926 Key West menu and few mention the sponge hookers and their earliest version of the treat.

The question people should be asking today isn’t “Was Key lime pie invented in Key West or New York?” The question is, “How did Key lime pie get from a hookerboat to a Woman’s Club cookbook?”

I have a theory.

We believe spongers created an early version of the pie for nutrition, flavor and convenience. From there, awareness of the concoction would have spread to shore through ship chandleries.For a simple working-class dessert, no one would have written down recipes. Women would have prepared it for their kids and families, but the simplicity and working-class stigma would have put it at the bottom of the list for dinner guests or cookbook submissions.

I suspect Sarah “Aunt Sally” Curry served a version of Key lime pie to her nieces, nephews and their neighborhood friends. Their friends probably returned home and told their parents that “Aunt Sally” Curry was serving hooker pie. The town gossips took the opportunity to knock her down a few pegs by spreading the story, but eventually opinions shifted, and other high society ladies figured if a wealthy, well-respected Curry was serving the hooker pie, then they would do it too. 

I believe this is the stage when crusts, toppings, and garnishes were introduced to the dessert; all these elements removed the working-class hooker stigma and dressed the pie up for high society. I also believe this early coconut – er, Key lime – telegraph is the reason Aunt Sally is remembered for — and credited with — creating Key lime pie. And just to be clear, this happened in Key West, not New York City. 

But who put the “Key” in Key lime pie? It wasn’t Aunt Sally. We’ll dive into that Key lime pie hole in our next article. Until then, enjoy a slice of Key lime pie on the docks with a hooker or with the high society ladies at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Either way, it will deliver that unmistakable burst of flavor that was first created right here in the fabulous Florida Keys. 

 Love & Limes!

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