Pianos, Key Lime Pie and iPads

Harper's CornerJessica Harper
By Jessica Harper
April 2011

"What's that piano doing on a sandbar in Key Biscayne? And what does that have to do with Key Lime Pie and the iPad? Read about how these things are actually all related. (Sort of)."

While I was in Florida earlier this year (on a tour promoting my new book), two things got my attention. First, a piano showed up on a sandbar in Key Biscayne, prompting lots of jokes about a new piano bar and a whole new set of Florida Keys. While this event didn’t get much attention out of state, Miami was abuzz with speculation as to how the piano got there…

The most popular theory was that some very strong guy on a cruise ship had one too many margaritas and shoved it overboard. Someone else suggested that a Tiger Mother, tired of hearing her untalented child practice, snapped and hauled the instrument to its sandy resting place. I also heard someone say that a young man had placed it there as a romantic gesture, a premature valentine for his lover. A less credible theory was that someone had flushed the piano down a local toilet.

By the way, historians have noted that this was not the first instance of piano prankism. In Harwich, Massachusetts, in 2008, some lady stumbled upon an upright that had been deposited in the middle of the woods. What’s up with this mistreatment of pianos? If I were going to pick on an instrument, I think I’d make it one of those annoying ones, like a bagpipe or a kazoo.

Anyway, the other thing I found fascinating in Florida was the omnipresence of Key Lime Pie. I'm telling you, it's everywhere. I’d forgotten how good it is, and how easy to make. You’ve got to love that graham cracker crust! No struggling with a traditional crust, the type that has driven me mad on more than one occasion. (If you ever find a rolling pin on a Florida sandbar, you will know who put it there.) I'm supplying you with a recipe for Key Lime Pie at the end of this column so you can re-discover it for yourself.

On the flight back from Florida, I pushed the electronics shut-down rule to the limit, finishing up a call on my iPhone to my daughter (who had an urgent question about a turkey burger recipe) and whipping off a text to my other daughter (responding to an urgent question about laundry bleach) as the plane pushed back from the gate. I knew it was time to comply when I heard a flight attendant hissing at a guy a few rows up, “What part of ‘turn that off’ don’t you understand?” (Apparently last year’s incident on Jet Blue has given attendants everywhere license to reveal their postal side.)

Stowing the iPhone, I pulled out my portable task light (the very one I wrote about in another column), without which I could not read the Arts and Leisure section. The crabby flight attendant eyed the device suspiciously but, either mystified by the light’s power source or intimidated by the defiant look on my face, he backed off.

When we got to the proper altitude, I put away the light and snapped open my laptop, to scan the in-flight internet for a Key Lime Pie recipe. I was obsessing over some foodie's blog about the history of the pie when my battery expired. I moved on to the iPad to watch an episode of “Modern Family” and read a little of “Freedom.”

For those of us with a certain level of visual impairment, that iPad is a lifesaver. It's no longer possible for me to read a book, and the Kindle and other e-readers have too little contrast, making them even harder than an actual book. But the iPad is a different story. It's backlit, and it has choices of type and size of font, making reading entirely possible and enjoyable for me.

Anyway, there I was happily reading my iPad when the sound of someone repeatedly shuffling cards started to drive me insane. I went back to the iPhone to listen to the audio of “Lit” until the order came to shut down electronics again. Once again subjected to the card shuffling and other annoying sounds, I fantasized about what I'd do if I ruled the plane: “We are ready to push off. Please do not play cards, unwrap smelly food, blow your nose frequently, engage in unnecessary newspaper rattling, or say much until we have landed safely in Los Angeles.”

Denied access to my gizmos, I was forced to resort to pen and paper to make a grocery list, figuring that, on my way home, I’d swing by the market to get the ingredients for Key Lime Pie. The challenge here is that my handwriting has deteriorated to the point of illegibility. And even if it were legible to a normal person, my PXE eyes couldn't read it. So, back on land and powered up again, I dictated the list to my Dragon Dictation app, texted it to myself, and, Nano earbuds in place--NPR makes grocery shopping so much more tolerable, don't you think?--I went to buy limes.

I hope you'll try this recipe, and also the iPad, if you have not already.


10 graham crackers
½ cup almonds
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
4 egg yolks
1 14-ounce can sweetened, condensed milk
½ cup key lime juice, fresh or bottled (I used Nellie and Joe’s brand)
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
Whipped cream for serving (optional)

Serves 8 (or 6 greedier types)

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

2. Break the graham crackers into large pieces and place them in the bowl of your food processor. Pulse several times, until you have fine crumbs. Place the crumbs in a bowl. Place the almonds in the food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped, then add them to the crumbs. Mix the butter with the crumb mixture until well blended, then press the mixture along the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake the crust for about 12 minutes, until it’s lightly browned. Set the crust aside.

3. Place the egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on medium until the yolks are pale yellow and slightly thickened, about two minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the milk. Slowly add the lime juice, then turn off the mixer and stir in the lime zest. Pour the mixture into the pie pan and bake for about 15 minutes, until the filling is almost set but still moist.

4. Allow the pie to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate it for at least 8 hours. Serve chilled with whipped cream, if desired.


For more articles by Jessica Harper, visit http://www.jessicaharper.com and http://www.thecrabbycook.com.