Backyard citrus: key limes

PA160786Aside from the (finally!) cooling weather, one of my favorite fall treats is strolling into the backyard and picking ripe citrus fruit.  This week, the golf-ball-sized key limes turned from glossy green to pale yellow, signaling their juicy prime.  Soon to follow are a bumper crop of Meyer lemons and  handful of satsumas, with the rest to follow around Christmas.  My backyard orchard is still young, a mostly post-Katrina planting to fill in a spot vacated by a fallen hackberry.

Known to botanists as citrus aurantifolia, the key lime grew widely in south Florida prior to the great 1926 hurricane.  Subsequently, farmers replanting their ruined groves switched to the easy-to-ship, thicker-skinned Persian limes, which are larger and grow on thornless trees.  I ate my share of key lime pie in the Keys last year, but I didn’t see a single, solitary lime tree (Persian or key) on any of the Keys!

Today, the key lime has returned to local grocery stores under the name Mexican lime (usually sold several dozen to a red poly-net bag).  Bottled key lime juice is inferior to the fruit;  all of the floral, fruity nuances quickly fade, leaving only harsh, metallic sour notes.  So for a top-quality key lime pie or tart, only fresh fruit will do….

PA170787My key lime pie

  • 3/4 cup graham cracker or cookie crumbs
  • 3/4 finely chopped pecans
  • 4 T butter, melted
  • 2 T to 1/2 cup sugar (more if using graham crackers, less if using sweet cookies)
  • 15 0z can condensed milk (fat free is fine)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup key lime juice
  • 3 tsp grated key lime zest=

Preheat oven to 350.  Combine crumbs, chopped pecans, sugar, and melted butter in a medium bowl.  Press mixture into a 9-inch pie plate.  Bake for 10 minutes; remove from oven and set aside.

PA170795In a large bowl, whisk together condensed milk, egg yolks, lime juice and zest.  Mixture will be thin and loose; continue whisking until it thickens slightly.  Pour into the prepared crust.  Bake for 15 minutes at 350.  Cool completely at room temperature, then refrigerate before serving.

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