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The Scrutinized Origins of Key Lime Pie

If you’ve heard the word of mouth, then you’ve probably been led to believe that key lime pie was a traditional dessert that began in Key West, Florida, a popular vacation destination for young and old alike in the most southern reaches of the sunshine state. The story goes that key limes require the exact Key West climate in order to achieve the right amount of tart, tangy taste for perfect baking. Here’s the problem: there’s a new theory about the origins of Key Lime Pie, and not everyone is happy about it.

If the new story proves to be true, then Florida isn’t the birthplace of key lime pie at all. Instead, a milk company might have conceived the recipe. Not surprisingly, Key West residents are up in arms about the news.

Author of BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, Stella Parks, believes that the dessert was inspired by a desire to sell more, more, more–milk, that is. She believes that’s a reasonable explanation since the milk company Borden’s sweetened condensed milk is an important ingredient in key lime pie.

The theory might not be as preposterous as it sounds. Parks even goes on to further explain her belief by providing a time, place, and reason for its occurrence. She thinks the first key lime pie was thought up in a Borden kitchen in NYC in 1931. Parks says that Borden wanted to recreate the success of its popular Magic Lemon Cream Pie, and the key lime pie was the end result.

The response to Parks was quick and brutal. Author David Sloan asked fans of his The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook to search for old recipes that could prove the pie dates back even further. He also provided his own belief that Aunt Sally, a cook for famous Florida millionaire William Curry, was the first to bake a key lime pie way back in the mid-1800s. That’s all well and good, but where’s the proof? He hasn’t got any. That said, Parks didn’t find any real evidence of key lime pie prior to 1949, and she spent a reasonable amount of time with historians in the area.

The Miami Herald found the oldest on record by researching old newspapers in its own archives–1933. So who’s got the right of it? Parks, the Miami Herald, or the residents of Key West? Maybe we’ll never know.