The Southern U.S. is home to the “Tropical South” which includes southern Florida and the Florida Keys along with the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. When you visit these tropical locales, you’ll surely be tempted by the array of tropical fruits and nuts native to these areas. For example, our recent summer vacation to the Florida Keys tempted us at nearly every mile marker with offers of the “Best Key Lime Pie in the Keys.” On a day trip to Key West, we were bombarded with key lime flavored offerings including everything from the gimmicky Key Lime Pie dipped in Dark Chocolate on a Stick to the refreshing Key Lime Sherbet available at every corner ice cream stand to the souvenir-appropriate Key Lime Dessert Cream Cheese Mix we spotted at Peppers of Key West.
As it turns out, the Key Lime is like so many other Southern ingredients and cooking traditions: the key lime isn’t actually native to the Florida Keys! But after being brought there years ago by settlers, it became naturalized. The Key Llime is quite a different fruit than the typical Persian Lime found at most grocery stores. For starters, the Key Lime is much smaller: about the size of a small ping-pong ball. The peel is thin; many have compared its skin to that of the bite-sized kumquat fruit common in the Coastal South region. Some locals even claim to eat the entire fruit, skin and all. Finally, recipes and photos showing a perfectly green and plump lime in photos representing key limes are simply inaccurate, albeit tantalizing. Key Limes, when ripe, are mottled and tend to be more yellow or yellowish green rather than the kelly green seen on a Persian Lime.
Key Limes pack a punch with a much higher acidity than Persian limes and boast a bright aroma while hiding a juicy – albeit seedy – interior behind that thin skin. Beware, though, if you’re like me and bring a bag full of Key Limes home as a souvenir, you’ve also bought yourself the chance to brush up on your hand-juicing skills. Mechanical juicers aren’t as affective with this small fruit. I can attest, however, that the trouble is well worth it because you’ll successfully extend the feeling of your tropical getaway just a little bit longer.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing two more fresh Key Limes recipes including an ah-mazing Key Lime Aioli Recipe that I’ll demonstrate on a Key Lime Aioli Burger Slider and use as a dip for Coconut Sweet Potatoes. I’ll also share an easy Key Lime Tart recipe with a secret tropical ingredient in the crust that’ll leave you dreaming of the Islands.
But for now, I’ve got a quick and easy recipe you’ll be sipping within a matter of minutes to pay yourself back for your hard work over the juicer. This Key Lime Chiller is similar to one I enjoyed in Key West at Coconuts Coffee Shop, a funky hole-in-the-wall serving outstanding homemade goodness. This drink will cool you off on a hot day with the bright acidic punch of key limes and refreshing mint. It’s reminescent of a mojito, but with no alcohol.
RECIPE: Key Lime Cooler
Servings: 2-3 glasses
- 6-7 Key limes, juiced (approximately 4 Tbsp juice)
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 10 fresh mint leaves, washed
- Sparkling water
- Muddle sugar and mint together in bottom of a high ball or stemless wine glass (because wine glasses are more fun no matter what’s inside).
- Top the muddled mixture with ice and the lime juice.
- Fill to rim with sparkling water and garnish with a wedge of lime or a floating mint leaf. Serve immediately.