KEY WEST, Fla. — Tiny yellow Key limes have flavored Florida Keys cuisine since the 1800s. Contemporary lime lovers can celebrate the home-grown fruit and the dessert it inspired — the island chain’s signature Key lime pie — during the Key Lime Festival set for Thursday through Sunday, July 4-7.
In much of the United States, July 4 festivities feature hot dogs, apple pie, patriotic celebrations and fireworks. But in Key West, holiday traditions also include the wacky (and extremely messy) Mile-High Key Lime Pie Eatin’ Contest.
Some two dozen competitors are to step into the “limelight” at noon on Independence Day at the Southernmost Beach Cafe, located on the Atlantic Ocean at 1405 Duval St. After donning safety goggles, each must attempt to devour an entire 9-inch pie, topped with mounds of whipped cream, in the fastest time — without using their hands.
That evening, fireworks are to light up the Florida Keys sky from Key Largo to Key West. Events in the southernmost city also include a VIP dinner on the grounds of the Casa Marina Resort, 1500 Reynolds St., to benefit the Rotary Club of Key West’s scholarship fund.
Key lime pie, believed to have originated in Key West in the late 1800s, was designated Florida’s official pie in 2006 by the state legislature. Its main ingredients are condensed milk, egg yolks and Key lime juice, with the creamy filling typically nestled in a graham cracker crust and topped with whipped cream or meringue.
Festival fun includes a Key lime scavenger hunt, a class on planting the tiny limes complete with seed giveaways, a Key lime cocktail tasting stroll and the offbeat Key Lime Pie Drop from the top of the local lighthouse.
Lime lovers also can attend “Key Lime University,” whose curriculum includes expert-led classes in baking the delicious dessert, preparing the earliest version known to pie pundits and concocting the perfect Key lime libation.
In addition, attendees can acquire signed copies of “The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook” and meet author David Sloan during a reception at the pie’s historic birthplace, snap selfies with Key lime legend Kermit Carpenter and tour the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery to taste its Key lime rum.
The festival concludes Sunday, July 7, with a leisurely sampling stroll that features five variations on the pie that has become the Keys’ best-loved dessert.
Event information, registration and ticketing: keylimefestival.com
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY