‘I don’t hate you, I’m just not necessarily excited about your existence.’ I’m pretty sure that’s what Persian limes – the standard limes sold at any grocer in the U.S. – would say to Key limes if they could talk. This Is especially true when it comes to these tiny & refreshing Persian Lime Pies in a Jar, in which our Persian friends can play the starring role so fabulously.
Our ornery friends’ disposition is understandable.
First, most supermarket with a decent produce section donning both varietals will ceremoniously label Key limes as ‘Key limes’ and Persian limes as…well, just `limes.’ That’s a pretty solid foundation for an identity crisis right there.
Now add how the internet and cookbooks are awash with Key lime pie recipes counseling readers to use second-fiddle regular limes if prized Key limes should not be available.
Finally, factor in that Key limes – despite their esteemed reputation – are actually more bitter, harder to find, and require more labor to use, and we have a real life Cinderella situation for our Persian friends. It certainly makes any asocial sentiment on their part understandable.
While anecdotal, my own experience in using both varietals to make Jarred Lime Pies underscored Key limes’ less stellar qualities.
Bitterness: It is difficult, in a dessert, to zero in on the pronounced bitterness for which Key limes are known. In all honesty, my family and I ravaged both pie versions in one sitting, so I can’t say anyone walks away the winner in any lime tasting competition. I did find the Key-lime version to be slightly less tart, but also thought the piqued pungency of Persian limes brightened the heaviness of the condensed milk and egg yolks. For the most part, it was a wash.
Spotty availability in supermarkets: I don’t live in a major metropolitan area and consequently was able to access Key limes only by the grace of God, meaning that since my husband travels to Atlanta for work, he was able to pick some up at Whole Foods and hand them to me in my own kitchen, as if by magic. If he were unemployed, I would be out of luck.
Harder to work with: My recipe for Jarred Lime Pies (of either type) requires half a cup of lime juice. I only had to squeeze 3 Persian limes to make the Persian lime version while I had to go through 19…19!… tiny, compact, excessively dry and almost rock hard Key limes to get that coveted half cup. My hand hurt afterwards and, for the first time in my life, I was mad at a fruit. I now understand why Key limes appear in so many cocktails. Using them turns one to the bottle.
In the future, I’ll spare my doting husband a trip to the supermarket. Nothing about my experience with Key limes has led me to believe they are irreplaceable. Persian limes, despite being un-inspiringly ‘conventional,’ are all I need for my baking and cooking needs.
Having said that, I want to share a few tips I’ve learned from cooking with them:
- Consider using the whole fruit. Thinly slice a lime and quickly sauté it on medium-high heat with a little oil. It adds fabulous flavor to the oil and drama to the dish once you add it back at the end. Also, put a cut up lime (or lemon) in a chicken before roasting. Doing so keeps the bird moist from the inside and adds lovely aroma.
- Discard lime seeds, as they are bitter. Thankfully, limes don’t have many seeds and can be picked out of slices and pieces quite easily.
- Zest limes at the last minute. The longer zest sits out the drier and less aromatic it becomes.
- Remove skillets from heat before adding lime juice, as adding it to boiling sauces causes uninviting discoloration and bitterness.
- Avoid shelf-stable bottles of lime juice like the plague. They are frighteningly bitter and offer a slightly rancid aftertaste to boot.
Perhaps Persian limes can find comfort in something Steve Martin once said: ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’
making jarred persian lime pies
Preheat oven to 375°F.
TIP: I’ve taken to baking the graham crackers to create the crumbs separately. In an effort to avoid baking the crumbs separately, I tried baking the ‘crust’ in the jars but found the crust of the finished dessert to be very hard and difficult to spoon out – even when I was careful not to press down on it in the jar too much.
Make the graham crumbles by combining 1 ½ cups ground graham cracker crumbs (about 9-10 crackers), 3 TBSPs granulated sugar and 2 pinches of salt in a medium sized flat baking dish. Stir to combine and then add 7 TBSPs of melted unsalted butter. Mix until crumbs are evenly coated. Gently press them down into baking pan. Place in the oven and lower temperature to 350°F. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool and then break up the ‘crust’ into crumbles with your hands or a fork. Set aside to cool.
Make the filling by beating 4 large egg yolks (extra-large also ok) and zest from 1 lime for 5 minutes. I do it right in the blending jar of my trusty immersion blender for easy clean up. Now I know 5 minutes seems like a long time. Honestly, it seems interminable when I’m holding that hand-held blender, but I do it because it makes the lime custard sooooooo creamy. It makes it worth the effort.
See what I mean about it looking creamy?
Oh, and while this is just my preference, I will share that I do end up eliminating the lime zest that gets stuck on the whisk. I get rid of them because they are all bunched up and risk becoming a glump of tart lime zest in the custard. I figure they’ve already contributed their tart and citrus-y oil in the 5 minutes of whipping and, as such, have done their job.
Add 1 14-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
and beat for 3 more minutes.
Add ½ cup fresh lime juice (from 3-4 Persian limes) and beat until combined.
Create the minis by spooning equal amounts of the baked graham crumbs into the bottom of 6 glass jars (sized like water glasses). Press down the crumbs just enough to flatten the crumb surface as much as possible.
Just make sure not to press down too hard because otherwise the crust becomes too hard and becomes difficult to ‘spoon out’ when trying to eat it.
Carefully pour the lime custard top.
Place jars on a baking pan and return to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until firm but not browned. Let cool and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours to fully set the custard. Top with optional whipped cream. Makes 6 servings. Can keep for up to a week in the fridge, as if that was even a possibility.