Culture

Online Petition Seeks to Maintain Official State Status for Key Lime Pie

Behold the official pie of Florida.
Behold the official pie of Florida. Photo courtesy of Fireman Derek's Bake Shop
Key lime pie is more than a dessert. In the Florida Keys, it drives an entire industry for tourists who clamor to have an "authentic" taste of the Sunshine State.

As you drive down the Overseas Highway, you'll find key lime pies sold everywhere, from bakeries to souvenir shops — and why not? The dessert, a refreshing blend of tart and sweet, is the edible equivalent of a day in Key West. It is to Florida what peaches are to Georgia and whiskey is to Tennessee.

The origins of this delicious pie can be traced back to the late 1900s, according to Britannica. In 2006, it was designated the official pie of the State of Florida. In Miami, key lime pie is as popular as it is further south, with restaurants like Joe's Stone Crab, Blue Collar, and Ice Box Cafe making sure that no meal is complete without a slice.

Recently, however, the key lime pie's status as Florida's favorite has been challenged.

Florida State Rep. Lawrence McClure introduced a bill to make strawberry shortcake the official state dessert. McClure hails from Plant City, a town known for its strawberry crops and annual strawberry festival. New Times reached out to Rep. McClure and will update this story with any additional information.

On January 12, the House Public Integrity & Elections Committee voted to move the bill along to the State Affairs Committee, which will consider it tomorrow. A similar bill, meanwhile, is wending its way through the Florida Senate.

Passage of the bill wouldn't upend Key lime pie's State Pie status, but some people do not want to see strawberry shortcake hog the spotlight.

A group called the Conch Republic Key Lime Pie Council launched an online petition to keep key lime pie as Florida's top treat.

Council member David Sloan, author of The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook and cofounder of the Key Lime Festival, says strawberry shortcake has no business being the official dessert of Florida.

"Strawberry shortcake was invented in England. Key lime pie was invented right here in Florida," Sloan argues. "The 'key' in 'key lime pie' is for the Florida Keys."

Sloan recognizes that Plant City is an important grower of strawberries but compares the strawberry shortcake argument to another Florida mascot. "Florida has more mosquitoes than panthers, but you don't see anyone trying to change the official Florida animal to a mosquito," he points out.

Sloan says the petition was designed to give the key lime pie the recognition it deserves.

"Here's the thing: It's important that key lime pie is respected. It's probably the most famous dessert in America. People say apple pie is, but it wasn't even invented in the U.S."

Sloan also says the key lime — much like the Florida panther — is a dying breed. "There's almost no commercial key lime crop anymore — just a few small groves in the Redland," he says, noting that commercial development and saltwater intrusion infringed upon the key lime's habitat.

The petition, by the way, is hilarious, noting the two desserts' disparate provenance and comparing the musicality of both desserts, contrasting Kenny Chesney's song, "Big white sail/Red sunset/Lobster tail and don’t forget/My, my, my – my key lime pie" to R. Kelly's "Band-Aids for my knees/Girl set the table/Now let me feast/strawberry shortcake.

To date, the petition has garnered about 1,100 online signatures in favor of key lime pie.

Derek Kaplan built his entire business model on making delicious key lime pies. In 2008, Kaplan, a Miami firefighter, decided to sell his key lime pies at food truck roundups under the name Fireman Derek's Famous Key Lime Pies. Kaplan has since opened two pie shops under the Fireman Derek's Bake Shop moniker.

Kaplan, who bakes a variety of pies (including a strawberry shortcake pie), thinks key lime pies should keep their official status. "I love key lime pie. I love the tartness and the sweetness of it. Honestly, it's always been my favorite pie."

Kaplan adds that key lime is the quintessential South Florida pie. "It goes with everything from stone crabs to Cuban coffee. It's tropical and refreshing."

Also, key lime pie is a classic. "Some desserts are just loved — like apple pie and key lime pie. Strawberry shortcake, on the other hand, comes and goes in popularity."

He adds that while tourists flock to his Wynwood and Coconut Grove pie shops for a slice of key lime pie, very few people travel to Miami for some strawberry shortcake. "People come here to see who has the best key lime pie. There are people in the Florida Keys whose business relies solely on key lime pie. To change that because some strawberry farmer prefers strawberry shortcake isn't cool. The Florida Keys and key lime pie have always gone hand in hand."

Kaplan adds that key lime pie is also good for Florida's economy as a whole. "I would imagine that the Keys get way more visitors than Plant City."

So can't key lime pie and strawberry shortcake get along? After all, Florida is a large state. David Sloan thinks he found a compromise: keep key lime pie the official pie and make strawberry shortcake the official cake."

He suggests that Plant City could add some key limes to its strawberry shortcake, and maybe the Florida Keys could make a strawberry key lime pie. "I really think there's a good future for strawberry key lime pie."
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss