Once and for all – Key Lime Pie’s New York City Origin Story Disproved - A half eaten piece of cake on a plate - Key lime pie
The traditional merengue topping and pastry crust are standards from the early days. CONTRIBUTED

Chef Stella Parks caused quite a stir when she questioned the origin of Key West’s native dessert and claimed Key lime pie was first created as a product of Borden’s New York City test kitchen in 1931. The media pounced on the story. Parks became a New York Times bestseller. The burden of proof was placed on the Florida Keys, but hand-written recipes passed down through generations and first-hand accounts were not enough. The naysayers surrounding Parks wanted real documentation of the existence of a pre-1931 Key lime pie. I rounded up all evidence here, to put the New York debate ever to rest. Ask and you shall receive.

1928 Key Lime Pie | The Lowe-Pennekamp Proof, Miami Herald

Newspaper editor John Pennekamp interviewed Florida Keys Fish & Wildlife conservationist Claude Lowe about Key lime pie in a Sept. 21, 1946, Miami Herald article. Lowe states, “A lime pie made like they were when there were no roads in the Keys and we were youngsters, required a good many more eggs than are commercially feasible in a pie that must be sold for $1.00.”  “No roads” and “youngsters” are the key words. The first main road in the Keys was the Overseas Highway.  It opened on Jan. 25, 1928. “Youngster” is subjective, but Lowe was born in 1908.

Once and for all – Key Lime Pie’s New York City Origin Story Disproved - A close up of a newspaper - Document
The 1926 menu of the Green Lantern on Fleming Street, featuring lime pie. CONTRIBUTED

1926 Key Lime Pie | Green Lantern Tea Room, The Key West Citizen

“Key limes” were just “limes” in the Keys before marketing kicked in. The Green Lantern Tea Room was located at 816 Fleming St. in Key West. On Jan. 27, 1926 their menu was published on page 4 of The Key West Citizen. The menu advertises “Lime Pie 10¢”

 

 

 

 

1926 Key Lime Pie | Fern Butters, The Florida Keys Sun

An April 1960 article in The Florida Keys Sun tells the story of Fern Butters and states, “Fern served her famous Key lime pie from 1926 to 1974, serving her friends, neighbors, and those of celebrity status such as Edison, Eisenhower, and Mr. & Mrs. Harry Truman.” Fern’s own journals describe her 1926 discovery of a wild lime grove next to her inn, and her experience using them to create her first lime pies. 

Once and for all – Key Lime Pie’s New York City Origin Story Disproved - A close up of a book - Illustration
The proprietors of the Green Turtle Grill, here in an early Miami Herald clipping. CONTRIBUTED
Once and for all – Key Lime Pie’s New York City Origin Story Disproved - A close up of a newspaper - Paper
A 1919 ad for Ma & Pa Griswold’s Green Turtle Grill, where Key lime pie was served. CONTRIBUTED

1919 Key Lime Pie | Ma & Pa Griswold, Miami Herald

Ma & Pa Griswold ran popular restaurants in the Florida Keys and Miami. A March 18, 1940 Miami Herald article states, “It is run by ‘Ma and Pa’ Griswold, whose fame for their exquisite conch chowder, turtle steaks and key lime pies has spread from Key West to Cape Cod during the past 21 years.“  A January 15, 1940 Miami Herald ad for their restaurant says, “Since 1919 – we have actually specialized in Green Turtle Steaks, Conch Chowder and Key Lime Pie.”

 

1912 Key Lime Pie | The First Train, The Key West Citizen

Marvin Thompson may be the only person to see Flagler’s first and last trains in the Florida Keys.  In a March 6, 1967 article in The Key West Citizen, Thompson describes the Jan. 22, 1912 arrival of Henry Flagler in Key West. His description includes the line, “Wooden wine barrels filled with Key lime juice mixed with sugar, syrup and cooled with chunks of ice made a limeade that could not be equaled. Guava pie and fresh coconut ice cream also hit the spot. Other raters on the menu were turtle stew, crawfish enchilada and conch chowder, topped off with genuine Key lime pie.”

  

1889 | The Blackwell Recipe, Miami Herald

The most compelling published evidence supporting Key lime pie’s Key West origins appears on page 2-C of the Aug. 25,1939 Miami Herald. The “Lime Pie” recipe includes eggs, lime juice, condensed milk, a baked pie shell and meringue topping. After the baking instructions it says, “This recipe has been used in the Blackwell family (Key West) for more than a half century.” The recipe was submitted by Mrs. L.E. Blackwell of 287 N.W. Fifty-eighth Street in Miami.

With census records and directories I was able to identify Mrs. L.E. Blackwell as Julia Self Blackwell, born 1897. She was married to Leroy Erlinson Blackwell, who was born in Key West in 1888. The pre-1889 date of the recipe indicates it came from Leroy’s mother. While searching for her, I came across Leroy’s World War I draft card. It listed his address as 610 Caroline St. The address stood out to me because it is a half-block from Amsterdam’s Curry Mansion Inn where legend says Aunt Sally baked the first Key lime pie for Florida’s first millionaire. I’ve long held that “Aunt Sally” is Sarah Jane Lowe Curry, but it seemed too good to be true that an 1889 Key lime pie recipe’s provenance would lead to an address just a stone’s throw from the birthplace of Key lime pie. And then I discovered Leroy’s mother. Her name was Emma Virginia Curry. 

We’ll take our pie back now, New York. But bring two forks. We’re happy to share. 

 

The 1889 Blackwell Key West Lime Pie Recipe is the oldest Key lime pie recipe I’m aware of. I present it here exactly as it appeared in the Aug. 25, 1939 Miami Herald.

The 1889 Blackwell Key West Lime Pie Recipe is the oldest Key lime pie recipe I’m aware of. I present it here exactly as it appeared in the Aug. 25, 1939 Miami Herald.

LIME PIE
3 eggs (separated)
¼ cup lime juice
1 can condensed milk
1 baked pie shell
6 tablespoons of sugar
Beat the egg yolks until lemon color, add the condensed milk, and last add the lime juice. Stir until thick. Into the baked pie shell spread evenly the above mixture, top with a meringue made by beating the egg whites until stiff and gradually adding sugar. Brown in a slow oven 10 to 12 minutes. This recipe has been used in the Blackwell family (Key West) for more than a half century.
MRS. L.E. BLACKWELL
287 N.W. Fifty-eighth street.

Join Our Blast – Keys News Right to Your INBOX

1 COMMENT

Leave a Reply