I simply love summer fruit pies - strawberry, blueberry, and cherry. While cream pies aren't my first choice, there is one exception: Key Lime Pie, a tropical-type American dessert created with key lime juice, eggs, and sweetened condensed milk poured into a pie crust. While this dessert, which has roots from the Florida Keys, is a favorite of mine, I've stayed clear of making it because of the safety matter thanks to raw eggs. But I finally discovered how to put it together and made an eggless pie with a fresh lime twist.
Key Lime Pie takes me back to when I was a kid in San Jose. Last weekend after a Barnes and Noble book signing in San Jose, my home town, I drove by the neighborhood I grew up in - and things had changed. The house was renovated much like a recent dream I had. It was easy on the eyes but the giant magnolia tree my dad planted in the front yard was AWOL. Sitting in front of the freshly painted house (it was salmon and now redwood) I got flashbacks of baking with my mom in our quaint kitchen, a cozy place complete with salmon colored countertops, a European white kitchen table, and cookery galore. My mother was queen of pies. Images of a freshly made light yellow-colored Key Lime Pie topped with a grand meringue brought back memories even though the house was no longer mine to enter.
Then, when I was cruising north on El Camino Real, Max's restaurant in Redwood City gave me another blast of the past taste of Key Lime Pie - one they offered and I always wanted to buy a whole one but only ordered a slice each time I visited. When passing by and heading to San Carlos (a place I lived for one fourth of my life) I recalled my 20s, hitchhiking in the Florida Keys all the way down to Key West, enjoying the locals' southern accents, humidity and swimming in a warm ocean. But the South wasn't me. I ended up coming back to northern California, my Golden state. Instead of living my entire life in San Francisco Bay Area, last Saturday and Sunday I realized that you really can't go home again, with respect to Thomas Wolfe. My connection is lost: friends and family have moved or passed, my sweetest hangouts are gone, old buildings are sterile re-dos made without character. But that doesn't mean I can't relive memories of pie.
No-Cook Key Lime Pie
1 cup reduced fat cream cheese, soft
1 1/2 cups sweetened condensed milk
1 cup frozen creamy whipped topping
1/2 cup fresh key lime juice (1 bag of small limes)
2 teaspoons lime rind
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 premium store bought crust, baked, cooled
Whipped cream (optional)
In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and milk. Blend well. Fold in juice, rind and vanilla. Place in fridge. Bake pie crust according to directions (it takes a bit longer because of the altitude). Cool. Pour in pie filling. Chill for three hours or until firm. Garnish with lime rind. Top with whipped cream. Serves 10.
This easy-to-make eggless, no-cook Key Lime Pie is worth the money and effort. Its texture is light and creamy and perfectly cut slices are the reward. The taste is not too sweet or too tart. The presentation is sophisticated and more attractive than using a graham cracker crust. (I chose a regular pie crust like my mom and Max's did.) I admit that going back to San Jose was a bittersweet experience. Today, sitting in my cabin on the South Shore, I get it. I can't go back in time, but this rich Key Lime Pie teamed with a cup of iced coffee gave me a piece of my youth as I once knew it. And that's sweet.
Motto: People and places change. Pie is something that you can recreate any time to recapture a bit of the past.
- Cal Orey, M.A. is an author and journalist. Her books include "The Healing Powers" series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, and Coffee) published by Kensington. (The Healing Powers of Honey and Coffee are offered by the Good Cook Book Club.) "Animal Attraction: A Collection of Tales & Tails" will be released this summer. Her website is www.calorey.com.