A Florida Keys culinary expert is furious about a Lexington cookbook author’s claim that Key lime pie wasn’t invented in the island chain.
Pastry chef Stella Parks wrote in her book “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts” that the Borden milk company invented the recipe in 1931 to market sweetened condensed milk, a prime ingredient in Key lime pie.
But a Florida foodie said Tuesday that Key lime pie was a Keys staple before that, citing local newspaper articles from 1926.
David Sloan, author of “The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook,” said his research proves Key lime pie existed before 1931.
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“Someone is trying to take away the Florida Keys’ culture, and I am not going to stand for it,” he said.
Parks won the James Beard award for “BraveTart,” which was named the Best Baking and Desserts book of 2018. The book reveals the stories behind favorite sweets, and recipes for how to make them.
Parks, who blogged under the name BraveTart before publishing her book, has worked at a number of Lexington restaurants, including Emmett’s, chef Ouita Michel’s Wallace Station and Holly Hill Inn, Bluegrass Baking Co. and Table Three Ten. She was one of Food & Wine’s Best New Pastry Chefs in America in 2012.
Sloan said the Keys’ signature dessert was perfected in late 1800s Key West by a woman named Aunt Sally, who adapted sponge fishermen’s custom of blending stale Cuban bread, sweetened condensed milk and Key lime juice.
“The people of the Keys believe the first Key lime pie was invented by sponge fishermen who went out in their rafts for several days and took supplies,” Sloan said. “We think that they took stale Cuban bread and moistened it up with sweetened condensed milk and then took wild bird eggs, squeezed some lime over it, let it sit in the sun and there you had the first Key lime pie.”
Sloan is a primary organizer for the annual summer Key Lime Festival that features a July 4 Key lime pie eating contest. He and others have also crafted eight-foot-in-diameter Key lime pies at major events.
In 2006, Florida’s legislature voted Key lime pie as the state’s official dessert. The celebration was staged in Key West.
Parks told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that she would welcome any proof that the pie originated in the Keys. But she says she scoured vintage cookbooks, newspapers and advertisements and could find no printed record that bakers in Florida used canned milk to make a no-cook lime pie prior to Borden’s 1931 introduction of a recipe for Magic Lemon Pie on the national stage.
“Going forward, it’s no surprise that Florida cooks would improve upon the recipe by using local Key limes,” Parks said in an email to the Miami Herald. “If anyone has found concrete evidence that canned milk was used in a no-cook lime custard prior to 1931, I would celebrate the discovery!”
According to the Herald report, Parks said she consulted with Key West historian Tom Hambright, who told her the earliest local Key lime pie recipe he could find was published by the Key West Woman’s Club in 1949.
“He told me Aunt Sally made a good story, but nothing more,” Parks told the Miami Herald.