Sunday, April 03, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Florida Part 2B (The Southern Half) - When life gives you key limes...

Before leaving Florida, we head as far south as we can go in the lower 48 - the Florida Keys.

Official Name: State of Florida
State Nicknames: The Sunshine State
Admission to the US: March 3, 1845 (#27)
Capital: Tallahassee (8th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Jacksonville (largest city), Miami (2nd largest), Tampa (3rd largest), St. Petersburg (4th largest), Orlando (5th largest)
Region: South, Gulf Coast; South Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Cornbread & BBQ, Crabcake, Gumbo
Bordered by: Alabama (northwest), Georgia (north), Atlantic Ocean (east), Caribbean Sea (south), Gulf of Mexico (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: Key lime pie (pie), orange (fruit)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: Cuban food (southern Florida), Key lime pie, seafood (stone crab, shrimp, conch, crawfish, etc), alligator (northern Florida) typical Deep Southern foods (northern Florida), foods of New York/New Jersey especially Italian & Jewish (southern Florida)

The so-called “Conch Republic” has a few of Florida’s unique dishes. Note, for example, conch, which you can make into fritters (grind the conch up first) or use in a salad (as Jeanne Voltz and Caroline Stuart recommend you do). You just have to find it first. It’s not always available this far north. Some well-stocked seafood markets have it (try Lexington Market or DC’s Maine Avenue Seafood Market, or occasionally H-Mart). A far easier thing to find is bottled Key lime juice, which you will need to make that most famous of Floridian desserts, the Key lime pie.

The recipe: Key Lime Pie

To make Florida’s state dessert, I went back to Voltz and Stuart’s bible of Florida foods for the recipe and the history of the pie. Originally it was not even cooked - the citrus in the key lime “cooks” the eggs in the pie so that you’re not eating a raw egg pie. Today many cooks recommend baking it a little. You will need to do this for the meringue and the crust anyway, so just to be on the safe side.

Though this was the most time-consuming dish to make, it is rather simple in terms of the number of ingredients. How you use them makes it not such an easy recipe. Here’s what you need:

* one pie crust, either pastry or graham cracker (I went the latter route, making a crust from graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar)
* 4 eggs, separated (prices vary)
* a 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk (About $2.50. Remember NOT to get evaporated milk. It will not work.)
* ½ cup Key lime juice (even though you can find a bag of Key limes at Harris Teeter for about $3, it’s much easier to get a bottle of Key lime juice. The only brand I could find was Nellie & Joe's "Famous" Key Lime Juice for about $4.50.

Don’t use regular old lime juice if you can help it. Key lime juice has a distinct, more complex flavor. Otherwise, you’re just making plain old lime pie. That’s not such a bad thing, but it isn’t Key lime pie.)
* regular boring ol’ “non-Key” lime (for the juice and the rind. The juice will go into your meringue)
* sugar (to add to the meringue you will put on top of the pie)

First, make the crust if you haven’t already done so.

Next, you will need to mix together the egg yolks (a little beaten), the condensed milk and Key lime juice. Stir until thickened, and then bake in the pie shell for about 15 minutes at 350.

While you do that, whip up the meringue. I’ve rarely made meringues in my life - I had not made one in years actually. This time it did not exactly come back to me, so I had to refresh my memory through the wonders of the internet. Remember that meringues whip up faster and easier with room temperature egg whites. Beat it at a medium setting until foamy, and then add the lime juice (Voltz and Stuart also recommend cream of tartar), beat more, and then a few tablespoons of sugar at a time until stiff peaks form.
“Seal” the edges of the pie with the meringue - I also put a decorative dollop in the middle - and bake for 15 more minutes. I decided to cover mine with lime rind after I took it out.

Ready for baking

I have not eaten much in the way of Key lime pies before. In fact, most of my citrus pie experience is of the lemon meringue variety, with those nasty “glop in your mouth” meringues you get on your store bought pies. My meringue was soft and even a bit chewy, a trait I don’t get to enjoy in many meringue pies. I hope to experience this more. The meringue cuts the tang of the Key lime very nicely for a filling and (forgive the term but it really is the most fitting) decadent eating experience.

My visit to Florida is done. Next I head back up I-95 to the home of Coca-Cola and Paula Deen, the ATL and the, er, SAV? Anyway, the Peach State is coming up. I’ve got Georgia on my mind. (By the way, does Augusta have a super-nifty acronym like Atlanta does?)


Castillo, Jorge, Glenn Lindgren and Raúl Musibay (Three Guys from Miami). “Cuban Food Recipe: Sandwich Cubano”, published 2004. Copyright Three Guys from Miami, 1996-2011. Originally from the book Three Guys From Miami Cook Cuban (Jorge Castillo, Glenn Lindgren and Raúl Musibay), Gibbs Smith: Layton, UT: 2004. "Florida Jewish History”, publish date 2010. Copyright 2010.

Voltz, Jeanne, and Caroline Stuart. The Florida Cookbook: From Gulf Coast Gumbo to Key Lime Pie. Random House: New York, 1993.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Florida" page and other pages, and theFood Timeline State Foods link to "Florida".