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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Got Key Lime Pie

Living in Florida is its own reward, sun and surf, beautiful sunsets, bikinis and, as if that weren't enough, now and then a delight for the palate. I'm speaking, of course, about Key Lime Pie that rare combination of citrus from tiny, tart Key limes and the silk-smooth, creamy richness of sweetened condensed milk.

Each year hoards of tourists arrive in Florida and devour hundreds of tons of this amazingly simple but oh so tropical dessert. The dessert is made easily, by combining a couple of cans of sweetened condensed milk with eggs and the juice of a dozen or so Key limes. Pour into a graham cracker crust and refrigerate for several hours. Serve with mounds of sweet whipped cream.

So we set about to create a traditional and vegan Key Lime Pie.

Turns out the question arises, what is sweetened condensed milk and moreover why does it exist? Useful, of course, for many desserts sweetened condensed milk doesn't seem to have any other purpose. So we did a little digging.

In 1856 Gail Borden a tinkerer and inventor submitted his patent for Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. By extracting the water from whole milk and replacing it with sugar Borden was able to preserve canned milk and thus make it portable in a world without refrigeration. Milk spoils in hours left unrefrigerated and "milk disease" in the mid 1800s was a serious public health issue. With Borden's invention mothers could now send canned milk to school with their children and city folk could count on safe milk for their meals far away from the source, the dairy farm.

Diseases and illness related to milk products are historically so prolific that whole societies have created laws to govern the consumption of milk. Kosher law strictly forbids serving milk and dairy together or even sharing food vessels and utensils for fear of cross contamination.

Lactose intolerance is considered by many as the single most widespread allergy in the world today. Many countries have banned the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone or rBGH, which is used in cows to accelerate their growth, citing insufficient research concerning the impact on human consumers.

Finally, in the early 21st century milk has come under suspicion by UK researchers as a likely vector for Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP) bacteria the principle causal element in Crohn's disease, the human equivalent of "Mad Cow."