In 1953, the Upper Keys Chamber of Commerce launched The Upper Keys Lime Festival and enlisted our dear citrus to “promote early tourism and prove that there are things to do in the Upper Keys besides fish, swim, relax and eat Key lime pie.” The ceremony at Indian Key Fill was well-attended and was followed by a giant community fish fry – priced at 75 cents a head. The crowd enjoyed a boat parade, crowning Key lime queen Dorothy Albury, and there was pie for all.
Fast-forward 60 years, to 2013, when local author David Sloan and artist and creative director of Wonderdog Studios Marky Pierson decided to resurrect and reinvent the feel-good community event. They spread the credit around: the reinvented festival was at the suggestion of friend Carol Shaughnessy and with the help of Liz Love.
“It’s a celebration of our citrus and eccentrics,” said Sloan, co-founder of the festival, Key lime pie cookbook author and, most notably, Keys Weekly columnist. Sloan has been a champion of Key lime pie origin stories on “CBS This Morning,” among other national media, to preach the gospel of Key lime pie being invented in Key West. He’s also been behind tree-growing initiatives, alongside Key West Legal Rum Distillery’s Paul Menta, Charlie Bauer of Smokin’ Tuna and Steve Tarpin of Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Since our beloved Key lime trees have become so scant in the Keys, they teamed up to offer free seeds, tips on growing, and education and awareness, with the goal of repopulating the island with our signature citrus.
Tourists and locals alike will enjoy the culinary and cultural fun offered all weekend, July 4-7, and might even get a crash course in botany. Sloan applauds the full lineup of activities, both Key lime and non-lime related. The full weekend will be packed with fireworks for Fourth of July, mermaids for Mermaid Fest, and of course, plenty of tropical heat and sunshine.
“Hey, we do sweet events and want you to squeeze in the best ones,” Sloan said, with a signature wry grin. So without further adieu, here’s our Local’s Guide to highlights of the 6th Annual Key Lime Festival. For a full lime-up (ahem) of events, check out www.keylimefestival.com, and for non-lime-related 4th of July events, check out p. XX. The hometown fun and festivities will make Independence Day one to remember — the bellyful of delicious pie is just the meringue on top.
Local’s Guide to the Key Lime Fest
The World Key Lime Pie Eating Championship
Southernmost Beach Café
1405 Duval Street
Thursday, July 4 at noon, doors at 11 a.m.
$20 to compete, free to watch
“It’s the biggest event and it’s a cool chance for people to be on TV,” said Sloan. Annually, the event is released on the newswire and broadcast around the world, alongside events like Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest. It’s a great time for locals to celebrate our worldwide culinary legacy.
It’s 25 contestants, and right now they’ve got eight spots open, but “We always fill up,” said Sloan. Pies are made by the Southernmost Beach Café, and each is a uniform 9 inches, topped in whipped cream. Feeling hungry? Try to beat the reigning champ, Trey Berman of Texas; it’s to see who can eat the 9-inch pie the fastest, and the record is 51.92 seconds. It’s the one competition where it’s a good thing to end up with the proverbial “egg on your face.”
Key Limes & Coffee
700 Front Street
$20 to attend lecture
Three times, with three different experts:
Friday, July 5 at 9:30 a.m.
The Fascinating History of Key Lime Pie with David Sloan
Saturday, July 6 at 9:30 a.m.
Key Lime Planting and Propagation with Paul Menta and Patrick Garvey
Sunday, July 7 at 9:30 a.m.
The Keys’ First Key Limes with Brad Bertelli
While it doesn’t have the glitz and booze of some of the other events, we at the Weekly are perhaps most interested in Key Limes and Coffee, a mini-lecture series exploring history, botany and in-between. Plus, there’s always Bailey’s!
“It’s a new event we’re doing with some of the most knowledgeable people on the planet talking about all aspects of Key limes,” said Sloan.
Appropriately, Sloan who has written extensively on the storied — and debated — history of the iconic pie, is kicking it off. He traces it to “Aunt Sally,” who prepared the first in the kitchen at the Curry Mansion (where he has a book signing and champagne reception at 4:30 p.m. on July 5). Next up, Chef Paul Menta — who is growing a Key lime orchard in his yard — and Grimal Grove’s grove master Patrick Garvey, who will discuss how to best tend the trees and even hand out free Key lime seeds for your garden. Finally, Brad Bertelli, curator of the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center and … wait for it … Keys Weekly columnist, will discuss the life and dramatic death of botanist Henry Perrine on Indian Key, and his hand in introducing our signature citrus to the Keys.
Locals will love learning even more about what makes our hometown so special.
Key Lime University: VIP Key Lime Baking Experience
Amsterdam’s Curry Mansion Inn
511 Caroline Street
Friday, July 5 at 12:00 p.m.
$100 for full VIP Experience (only 4 tickets left!)
Speaking of education, this is the ultimate Key lime immersion experience, where guests will bake in the kitchen where the pie was likely originally created; tour the gorgeous mansion owned by Florida’s first millionaire, William Curry; get a baking lesson from Sheila Sands Devendorf, fifth-generation Conch and renowned baker; and receive an autographed copy of “The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook.” The full experience will last around 90 minutes, in an intimate setting, with wine and, yes, pie provided for all participants. For those of us who think we’ve done it all, this is the perfect grande dame of pie experiences.
Sip ’n’ Stroll sponsored by Key West Weekly
Starts at: General Horseplay
423 Caroline St.
2 p.m. start, 1 p.m. check-in
$30 to participate, includes cocktails
Do you like to drink and judge? This is the event for you, and it’s sponsored by a local bastion of the written word.
“It’s a great paper – it’s the best paper on the island,” says Sloan of the Sip ‘n Stroll sponsor, the Keys Weekly that you now hold in your hands. If you know the Weekly, it’s also appropriate that the sponsored event is a bar crawl with a touch of Key lime class. Nine bars go head-to-head to make the best Key lime cocktails, martinis and margaritas, and contestants are the judges. Strollers can visit the bars in any order they like, and sample cocktails will be provided for their discerning judgment. The winners will be selected on a basis of flavor, appearance and aroma. Last year, Key West Legal Rum Distillery won the margarita category for their Rum-a-Rita (cue scandal!) and Hot Tin Roof won for their Key lime martini. Trophies will be presented by Sloan and Keys Weekly editor Sarah Thomas (er, me).
It’s a great way to celebrate our Independence, whether you are a patriot of the Conch Republic or the U.S.A. See you July 4th weekend!