Saturday, February 25, 2006

Limes vs. Nuts

From the Miami Herald:

TALLAHASSEE – The latest battle raging in the state Legislature has nothing to do with Republicans vs. Democrats, taxing vs. spending, left wing vs. right.

It’s about limes vs. nuts.

A few South Florida lawmakers want to make key lime pie the official state pie.

Yeah, there is such a thing.

Northern Floridians are not pleased.

They want the title to go to pecan pie — which already has such an honor elsewhere, being Georgia’s official state pie since 1996.

“Key limes are a thing of the past,” said Rep. Dwight Stansel, a Wellborn Democrat and vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Stansel, who raises pecans on his family farm, said he is ready to fight to keep this idea off the books: “Everybody would rather have pecan pie than key lime pie,” he says, pronouncing pecan with the stress on the “can,” like a true North Florida Southerner.

As with every good rivalry, the pie fight has a bit of history. It first broke out in 1988, when the Legislature couldn’t agree on a bill to give the state’s top honor to key lime pie. South Floridian lawmakers said key lime pies represented the entire state, while Panhandle lawmakers wanted something more sweet and less sour — either pecan or sweet potato pie.

A few years later the House passed a resolution recognizing the key lime pie as “an important symbol” of Florida.

That’s not good enough for state Rep. Mitch Needelman, a Melbourne Republican, who is introducing a bill in the House with fellow Republican Ken Sorensen of Key Largo. Needelman wants key lime pies elevated to a more elite status, joining other official Florida favorites such as the orange, horse conch shell and the sabal palm tree.

Sorensen reminds listeners that key lime pie was born of adversity and creativity. The story goes that during the early part of the 20th century, a Henry Flagler railroad train ran off the tracks in the Keys. One of the boxcars was loaded with condensed milk.

“…Not wanting to let anything go to waste, they looked at these thousands and thousands of cans of condensed milk and wondered what to do with them: Four tablespoons of key lime juice and condensed milk and we have the makings of a great pie,” Sorensen said.

Needelman doesn’t have as colorful a tale to tell, but he’s not above rallying the troops with a bit of agit-prop. He sent a letter in September to South Florida businesses that sell key lime pies, with a call to arms.

“We are facing fierce opposition from the backers of the pecan pie,” he wrote.

Bob Roth, owner of Bob Roth’s New River Grove, a Davie citrus stand known for its key lime pies, is happy to take up the call. And he has no patience for the North Florida pecan contingent:

“They have no business sticking their nuts where they don’t belong.”

I wouldn’t touch my next line for a free weekend in Key West…