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by Brooke Gazer, from the August 2021 issue of The Eye Huatulco

North of the border, we assign a specific name to each of these tangy citrus fruits, but in Mexico they are all called limones (lee-MOH-ness), regardless of size, shape, or color.

There are several varieties of lemons, but in north America, the Eureka lemon is the most common. This bright yellow citrus fruit was propagated in California in the mid-nineteenth century. It is slightly oblong, with a pointed tip on one end. Lemons have a sour flavor, but are considered sweeter and less acidic than the citrus fruit we call limes. The “lemon” type of limón is occasionally sold in Mexico, but is more expensive than limes.

There are two common varieties of limes. Persian limes (Citrus latifolia) are shaped like lemons, with a slightly smaller nub on the end. The small round ones are key limes (Citrus aurantifolia). These are usually bright green, because it is easier to ship and store the hard unripe fruit. But when this tiny lime ripens, the skin turns yellow. It also becomes softer, juicer, sweeter, and less acidic. Mexicans tend to prefer them green, but if you have access to a tree, leave some to turn yellow – the ripe ones make the best lemonade.

In the sixteenth century, the Spaniards introduced this little citrus fruit from Malaysia into the USA and Mexico. It was a commercial crop in the Florida Keys, until a hurricane in the 1920’s decimated the trees. After that, growers substituted the larger, hardier, Persian variety. Key limes still grow in Florida, but most small round limes in your grocery store originated from Mexico.

Mexico exports over $500 million dollars’ worth of limes annually. In the 1990s, NAFTA played a huge role in this economic windfall, as 90% of limes imported into the USA are from Mexico. These little green juice balls are beginning to be labeled “Mexican Limes”, and, were it not for the famous pie, the designation “key lime” might disappear altogether.

Regardless of its huge export potential, Mexico maintains a good portion of their limes for domestic use. This country devours 1.9 million tons per year and is rated as the world’s third largest consumer of limes. This citrus fruit, which is as indispensable as chilies in Mexican kitchens, plays an integral role in Mexican cuisine. Locals use both kind of limes but show a slight preference for the smaller round variety in savory dishes. These are slightly more acidic, which would be essential in a dish like ceviche.

Persian limes are seedless and, as they are larger, you can use a regular citrus juicer to make lime juice. The tiny ones require a hand-held apparatus resembling a garlic press. Key limes have a thin leathery rind, but Persian lime peel is closer in texture to a lemon. This makes it easier to grate and due to its size, it yields more zest. This is an important feature for baking because the zest packs a lot of flavor. For either lemon or lime, half a teaspoon of zest is equal to about a tablespoon of juice.

This may seem like sacrilege, but for the reasons mentioned above, I use Persian Limes to make Key Lime Pie. I’m including my recipe in this issue, adapted for the Huatulco grocery scene, along with a couple of simple alternatives.

Key Lime Pie Crust

Traditionally this calls for a graham crust, which you could buy at Soriana; since graham crackers are rarely found in Huatulco, cornflakes are a good substitute. 1 cup crushed cornflakes ¼ cup sugar ¼ cup melted butter dash of cinnamon

1. Combine everything in a pie plate and spread it around.

2. Using the back of a spoon press it firmly into the plate, covering the bottom and sides evenly.

3. Bake for about 10 minutes at 350°F.

Custard Pie Filling

4 eggs

*1 can La Lechera (condensed milk)

*½ small container plain yogurt ½ cup lime juice 3-4 tsp lime zest (2 medium Persian limes)

1. Lightly beat everything together except the lime zest.

2. Add that last and pour the custard into the cooled pie crust.

3. Bake for about 20-25 min at 350°F.

*North of Mexico, cans of condensed milk are 14 oz (about 445 ml), but in Mexico they are 290 ml. Unless you make a double recipe, what are you going to do with half a can? So, I tried substituting yogurt for the extra amount and voila … it worked, plus it cut out a few calories. No matter how you make it, Key Lime Pie can be served warm or cold. You can also lighten up this dessert by just making the custard or making Lemon Chiffon.

Lemon Custard

skip the pie crust, thereby omitting extra calories.

1. Make the lemon custard and pour it into 6 custard cups.

2. Place them in a shallow pan of water and bake for about 20-25 Minutes.

Lemon Chiffon

this will settle as it cools but will still be a soft chiffon texture, with a bit less cholesterol.

1. Substitute 2 egg whites for 2 of the 4 eggs (or use ¼ cup of claros*), and beat until stiff.

2. Mix all the custard ingredients except the beaten egg whites; fold those in at the end. 3. Pour the custard into 6 custard cups.

4. Place them in a shallow pan of water and bake for about 25 minutes – it might take another 5 minutes, because if the whites are not totally set, the desert will fall.

* Claros are egg whites and are found in the refrigerator section of the store.