THE COOK’S TOUR
When you think Key Lime, you think Florida, my home turf, BUT, you should be thinking Manhattan. It’s kind of fitting: Key limes aren’t natively American, but the high salt and sulphur content of the brackish lands of the Florida Keys, its terroir, transform what is, everywhere else, a makrut lime tree, into something special. So if a makrut lime can become a “Key” lime, Manhattan could be a better place to buy the juice. Here’s why:
Like many great things, from Worcester Sauce to the Looney Tunes theme, key limes were a fail that turned fabulous.
Lime trees aren’t native to Florida. Makrut limes made their appearance in the New World at about the same time in both Peru, and the Florida Keys, which were both settled in the 1530s. Some Spanish entrepreneur brought trees, hoping that the magnificent makrut would make him a big entrepreneur in the anti-Scurvy biz. The disease was a big problem for sailors, whose diet was largely stale biscuits and rum. Any citrus, which prevented scurvy, fetched top dollar.
The coastal inlets of both Peru’s Pacific, and the Keys, are heavy in rich, sulphured, brackish swamp land. Limes grow in it, but the composition of the soil changed the flavor in a new, more tart, tangy direction:
The “Key” lime was born.
By the turn of the 20th century, lime farming was big business. It takes five years to mature a “key” lime tree enough to produce.
The hurricane that destroyed much of the keys, and leveled the new railroad into non-existence in 1929, was the beginning of the end in key lime farming. What the hurricane didn’t destroy, post-WW II’s mini-boom in real estate did. The land was far more profitable for vacation houses, than farms.
Today real Key limes, from the Florida Keys, are an endangered species. Only a couple of small growers, in the Northern Keys, really produce them anymore.
UPTOWN PRICES ARE WORTH IT
It takes over 300 key limes to make a gallon of juice. It’s hard work, making the juice mighty pricey. The cheaper stuff? Most key lime juice companies get their product from Mexico. They’re just not as good.
Manhattan sources out of Peru, and from other growers where the soil conditions create that big brash flavor that millions around the world have come to love. The depth of flavor of their pure juice just has no real rival, other than my little grove, in the Northern Keys, that sells for two months a year. Since it would take over one hundred limes to make the juice in the Manhattan bottles, I’m more than happy to use their juice!
You can keep Nellie’s. I’ll take Manhattan. At my new Bed & Breakfast, The Epic, my Key Lime Sublime cookies are there to welcome every guest.
Even though I use fresh Mexican peel, as it’s all that I can get ten months out of the year, I use Manhattan Key Lime juice to transform a bit of flour and sugar into a little Southeastern Florida hospitality, and love.
It gets a big Jazz Chef Choicestuff™ 5-Diamond award from me for its tart richness that outshines everything but my little secret weapon lime farm that only sells once a year.