Key Lime Pie recipe sweetened condensed milk
H istorians warn about the dangers of "present-ism, " the tendency to interpret the past through the filter of present-day values and knowledge. Oddly, when I'm traveling around the country collecting recipes and food stories, I experience something closer to "past-ism." I'm vulnerable to the conviction that modernity is a pale and artificial imitation of a rich and natural past.
It's a serious liability. Consider the case of Key lime pie.
Almost without exception modern recipes call for a filling made with sweetened condensed milk. I was sure this canned ingredient was a contemporary replacement for thick, fresh yellow cream and I headed to Key West to investigate. Formerly home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, the furthermost Key is now also home to David L. Sloan, who considers himself the world's foremost Key lime pie authority.
I'd been told that Sloan, the author of 10 books, including The Ghosts of Key West and Quit Your Job and Move to Key West, was in possession of the original Key lime pie recipe. He confirmed this assertion when I reached him by telephone, adding: "The term possession makes me nervous. I was out foraging last night. It's not easy to find real Key limes. Most of what you find around here are not indigenous limes. Those were wiped out by a hurricane in 1926." Instead of Key limes, Persian limes were planted.
"They don't have the same subtlety, the same floral tones as a real Key lime, " said Sloan. "They do not make the same pie."
A purist! I could almost see him, querulous and bookish, the lone defender of a fading pie form. We agreed to meet at a café the following day. "I'll bring pie, " he said.
Neither querulous nor bookish, Sloan is 41 years old and has the perky enthusiasm of a cruise-ship director, which, it turns out, he was earlier in his career. As promised, Sloan arrived with a pie in either hand. One had bacon; the other contained habanero peppers.
"I love history and I take it quite seriously, especially the history of the Keys, " he said. "But history and authenticity are not the same thing. Around here everyone has a story. They tell it in Key lime pie."