Key Lime Pie Fans Get Whipped Over Dessert Snub

Key Lime Pie Fans Get Whipped Over Dessert Snub

Earlier this year, at a press conference in Plant City, Fla., Gov. Ron DeSantis sampled a spoonful of strawberry shortcake, gave a thumbs-up and signed into law new legislation making it the state’s official dessert.

Strawberry Shortcake. Not Key Lime Pie – the citrus-infused delight and the state’s most famous dessert – but Strawberry Shortcake, which most would agree is a British sweet.

Key Lime Pie Fans Get Whipped Over Dessert Snub


For many, the act was borderline treason. Florida’s culinary industry, locals and visitors alike, made it known immediately.

“I don’t know how that happened — I think it’s a farce,” said Mike Martin of Mike’s Pies in Tampa.

“We thought it was a joke,” said Paul Menta, a Key West chef and rum maker. “Then the shock set in. And finally denial. Locals were upset, but visitors were outraged – it was almost personal to them.”

Even Florida’s Lt. gov. Jeanette Nuñez warned Senator Danny Burgess, one of the bill’s sponsors. “Don’t step on Key Lime,” she posted on Twitter in February, with an illustration of a slice of Key Lime Pie.

“It just didn’t make sense,” said Richard Hatch, owner of Blue Heaven restaurant in Key West.

However, it made perfect sense for the billion-dollar strawberry industry, including Plant City’s annual Florida Strawberry Festival, which has served up millions of strawberry shortcakes since 1979.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a farm bill designating strawberry shortcake as the official state dessert.

Photo: WFTS

It also made sense for Plant City strawberry growers, who supply 15% of the country’s strawberries, according to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

In other words, it made sense to Big Strawberry.

For a country that invests heavily in agriculture, you have to fight for a piece of the pie.

“I feel like we’re finally getting noticed and being taken seriously,” said Sue Harrell, spokeswoman for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. “The strawberry industry was always marginalized and it was all about citrus.” (She’s also known as “Strawberry Sue,” according to the association.)

She hopes strawberry shortcake will soon be as common as key lime pie.

“Designating the strawberry shortcake as a state dessert is a way of paying tribute to strawberry farmers and what they have contributed to our state and our agribusiness,” Gov. DeSantis said at the signing in March.

The dessert designation was embedded in a proposed farm bill — SB 1006 sponsored by Sen. Burgess and Sen. Ray Rodrigues — aimed at boosting the strawberry industry.

While the bill may bear economic fruit, it might not symbolically represent a state where key lime pie is Florida’s pinnacle alongside oranges and sunshine.

It may just be lime juice, sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolk, but it’s a point of pride. In a recent survey conducted by the Miami Herald, 86% of people wanted key lime pie to be the state’s signature dessert. Only 5% opt for strawberry shortcake. In another poll by WUSF Public Media, 22.2% voted for strawberry shortcake and 77.8% for key lime pie.

“That has to be Big Strawberry,” said Mr. Martin of the cake shop, referring to the strawberry industry.

The reaction prompted many, particularly in the Florida Keys, to try to save their beloved dessert from being eclipsed by a British import. A Key West group — the Conch Republic Key Lime Pie Council, which includes Mr. Menta, the chef, — petitioned online and presented their case.

Key lime pie originated in the Florida Keys, while strawberry shortcake came from Europe, the petition states: “Key lime pie reminds people of sun, sand and tropical breezes. Strawberry Shortcake reminds people of a cartoon character from the early 1980s.”

Key Lime Pie has ties to American presidencies, sources said. “Not strawberry shortcake.”

The petition was immediately heeded. “People were outraged,” Mr Menta said. It was little consolation that Key Lime Pie was named the state’s official pie back in 2006. “It’s reductive,” said Mr. Menta. “It’s like everyone wins a prize.”

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Fans celebrated after Key Lime Pie was named Key West’s official dessert.

Photo: Alyson Crean

Mr. Hatch, the Key West restaurant owner, had questions. “Did Key Lime offend anyone?”

Before the law was signed, Mr. Menta sought advice from former Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow, founder of the Conch Republic, a Key West micronation that briefly seceded from the United States in 1982.

Taking a page from the Conch Republic’s political script, Mr. Menta successfully petitioned the City of Key West and Monroe County to make Key Lime Pie their respective official dessert. The group also imposed an embargo on strawberries in the Florida Keys.

“It was an all-out war at that point,” Mr Menta said. “We don’t mind farmers doing a thankless job delivering groceries, but come on – strawberry shortcake? For real?”

The group traveled to Tallahassee in hopes of negotiations. They petitioned their state representative to amend the bill that would designate strawberry shortcake as the official pie of Florida and equate it with state status of key lime pie. “I thought we could sort of share the limelight,” Mr Menta said.

The next day, during a closed Senate session that included bills on insurance claims and swimming pool construction, Senator Burgess winked and laughed as he introduced his bill, calling it “an important piece of legislation.”

The draft law now contained a proposed amendment. “It’s imperative that we ensure we have natural Florida milk toppings to honor our Florida dairy farmers,” said Sen. Burgess.

“Is this a real bill — are we really doing this?” asked Rep. Jason Pizzo, adding that maybe while they were at it they could add an official state bean like cannellini or frijoles.

“I found the way it was handled to be mockery, like they were laughing at us,” Mr Menta said.

Then there was the photo of the hosiery chosen by Sen. Burgess. He and his staff had been wearing strawberry shortcake socks. It was too much for Mr. Menta.

“These socks. I mean, I’m from Key West – who wears socks anyway?”

The bill passed with an overwhelming majority: 36-0 in the Senate and 109-4 in the House of Representatives.

It was too late. Big Strawberry won. The law went into effect in July – peak strawberry season.

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