I'm hardly the best person to write about this. I lived in Florida for just three years. Central Florida (shudder).
But I was fortunate enough to have a husband who wrote for the Orlando Sentinel. He took it upon himself to get to the bottom of the Key lime.
A real cult item.
You rarely see them in stores. They don't even grow in Orlando.
But in Key West, everybody grows them in their backyards.
So we went to Key West. (Actually, we went as often as we could. The culture there was much more to our liking than Disney Acres.) Key West is the last of a chain of islands, connected by a causeway, leading southwest from Miami. Ninety miles from Cuba.
The newspaper photographer accompanying us on this adventure had grandparents living in Key West; they were the descendants of generations of Key Westers. And yes, they had Key limes growing in their backyard. As well as a bird pepper tree. You might have to Google that.
I will briefly stop the narrative here to tell you an anecdote the grandfather liked to repeat. "You ever get up to the States much?" "No, I get the shakes around Key Largo."
We learned lots of Key lime lore from the Pinders, but my favorite item was a condiment called Old Sour.
Old Sour is a blend of Key lime juice, salt, and a fresh chili pepper, ideally a bird pepper. Let it sit in the humid, warm air for a day, then refrigerate it. You're supposed to filter it through cheesecloth, but I hate filtering off the goodies. Even though I just bought a tamis. So I never filter it. In the photo, you can see lime sediment settling at the bottom of the bottle. What's so wrong with that?
We recently got a sack of Mexican limes, which are really similar to Key limes. Squeezed them into a bowl. Strained out the seeds. Stirred in the salt. Tossed in a gashed cayenne pepper. This is SO not Key West, but for Northern California, darned close.
This mixture went into a bottle with a spout, an old Kikkoman bottle. Tabasco bottles work well, too.
It has been sitting out for a day, but since we don't have tropical weather here, I think I'll let it go another day before I pop it into the fridge. Already the sharp smell of the limes has softened, sweetened. No kick from the cayenne yet, but we've got time.
So, what do you do with Old Sour? My best memory at the Pinders' house was a bowl of fresh-caught fish served with a side of grits, splashing around in some of the fish-poaching liquid. Onions, bay leaf, like that. And a great shot of Old Sour.
When it was time for us to say goodbye, Mr. Pinder slapped a precious bottle of Old Sour into Cranky's hand, like a secret handshake. A private, special, homemade gift from an old-time Conch.