INDIAN RIVER KITCHEN
If Key lime pie is Florida’s most
famous dessert, sour orange pie
must be our best kept secret.
When I hike in the woods, I often
come home with sour oranges. Sometimes
I spot a couple on the ground,
only to look up and see massive, healthy
citrus trees underneath the oak canopy,
all covered in fruit. Spanish settlers
brought sour oranges, also called Seville
oranges, to Florida in the 16th century.
The trees are well-suited to our
climate and thrive even through winters
in North Florida. Because of this,
they’re used as hardy rootstock for
sweeter orange varieties. Sometimes
the sweet orange grafts die off in a hard
freeze, but the humble sour orange
rootstock lives on, growing into large
trees that produce tons of fruit. Besides
being sour, one of the most notable
things about these oranges is the staggering
amount of seeds they contain,
which spread easily. For these reasons,
you’ll find these trees growing wild in
backyards, parks and forests all across
They might not be the best snack
while you’re hiking, but they’re a powerhouse
in the kitchen. They taste like
a lime but they smell intensely orange.
They’re used in everything from ceviche
to classic British marmalade and
they’re prized in old-fashioned sour
The difference between Key lime pie
and sour orange pie comes down to
one ingredient: sweetened condensed
milk. In the 1930s, fresh milk and refrigeration
were hard to come by in the
Florida Keys and condensed milk was
a staple. Naturally, it made its way into
pies, along with local Key lime juice.
Condensed milk companies began
printing the recipe for Key lime pie
on the sides of cans and in cookbooks.
Before long, bottled Key lime juice
showed up in grocery stores alongside
those cans and what was once a
regional Florida dessert could be made
anywhere in the country.
Floridians were making sour orange
pie long before they had condensed milk.
The filling is a traditional citrus curd
BY DANIELLE ROSE
DANIELLE ROSE PHOTOS
made with egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch,
along with plenty of fresh sour
orange juice so it’s more tart than sweet.
The remaining egg whites are used to
cover the pie in a cloud of meringue.
The older recipes I’ve collected call
for a pastry crust, but I find a cookie
crumb crust is easy and just as delicious.
You can make your own with
graham crackers, gingersnaps, or animal
crackers; or use any pre-made crust
you like. Together, the crust, filling,
and meringue achieve a perfect balance
of flavor and texture. It’s every bit as
good as its more famous cousin. Alas,
without a marketing campaign and
shelf-stable ingredients, this classic pie
never strayed beyond its Florida roots.
You don’t have to hike in the woods
for feral oranges in order to make sour
orange pie. You can find them at Nelson
Family Farms in Fort Pierce, or you replicate
the aromatic juice with a mixture
of lime and orange juices. It may never
be as popular as Key lime pie, but this
is a taste of Old Florida that should not
Sour orange pie is a
beloved local favorite
Sour orange pie has roots in Spanish settlements