There's nothing quite like the smell of a fresh-cut key lime! Key limes have a thin yellow skin with plenty of seeds. A ripe key lime has green flesh. Fresh juice is greenish-yellow. Bottled juice always seems to be more yellow than fresh-squeezed. We definitely prefer frozen juice from fresh squeezed limes. Don't fall for all the stories about the color of key lime pie, it's the taste that counts!
If you're lucky enough to find some key-limes at the market, you'll need about 6 or 7 limes to squeeze 1/2 cup of juice (enough for one key-lime pie). When squeezing limes, be prepared for the pungent high acidity. Juice will make you painfully aware of any little cut in your skin. The Park Rangers at Lignum Vitae Key once told me that Florida homesteaders ate fish or turtle raw after pickling just a few hours in key lime juice!
A freshly fallen key lime is firm with a green ring circling the stem end of the fruit (see above). Unless you own a tree, you'll be lucky to find limes so fresh. Within a few days, the green ring at the stem end turns brown. After a few weeks, the skin starts to dry and shrivel. When the fruit bruises and rots with soft dark spots, it becomes "squishy." Squishy key limes belong in the trash heap.
Fresh key limes will probably keep longer chilled at 40°F-45°F, but don't freeze. We store our freshly fallen limes at room temperature with a shelf life of at least 2 weeks. If you don't plan to use limes immediately, consider juicing them and freezing the juice for future use. We've kept frozen juice over a year without any noticeable change in quality.
One of my favorite links for key lime recipes is at Nellie & Joe's Key West web site. The holy grail of key lime cooking is "The Key Lime Cookbook" by Joyce LaFray Young...good luck finding a copy. Of course, there's no better recipe than those you've tried yourself! Click on the limes below to see some of the recipes we've exercised to be tried and true over the long haul:
Classic Key Lime Pie
Egg Free Key Lime Pie
Key Lime Aid
Key Lime Slushy
Key Lime Fish
Key Lime Chicken
Key Lime Mia Tai