Key Lime Fun: Old Sour

Of the many uses Key limes played in Key West during those rough and tumble wrecking years, Old Sour was probably the most prominent. A simple dressing of fermented Key lime juice and salt – for the daring, a Bird pepper or chile pepper was added for an extra kick – just about every table on the island had a bottle of the versatile vinaigrette. “The seasoning was something everyone had and they put it on a lot of their food,” said Tom Hambright, Monroe County historian.

   Salty and acidic, Old Sour is a great addition to seafood dishes – a staple of Key West living from the 19th century to today. To make a batch of your own Old Sour, here’s what to do:

Old Sour - Key Lime Recipes - Dressing

Old Sour

  • 2 cups Key lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • Optional: 2 bird peppers


  • Ceramic or plastic mixing bowl
  • Glass or plastic citrus juicer
  • Glass bottle with stopper

The key when making Old Sour is to avoid metal at all costs – citric acid reacts to metal and will affect the fermentation process. With that being said, squeeze those mini limes with a glass or ceramic juicer, a la that vintage1950s citrus juicer that’s been gathering dust in the china hutch – those plastic citrus squeezers tend to have metal hinges, which can cause problems. Also, sterilize everything, from the juicer and mixing bowl to the container used to mix the ingredients – if not, prepare for a moldy, spoiled mix.

   In a ceramic bowl, mix ingredients together until salt dissolves. Let stand for at least an hour. Strain the juice through cheese cloth at least four times, ensuring all pulp is removed. Strain into small bottles and stopper, allowing to ferment for three to four weeks in a cupboard (somewhere dark and cool).

   Once fermented, store in the refrigerator for up to three months. Use on everything, from fried chicken and conch fritters to that fresh filet of grouper.


For more Key lime recipes, click here.

For a history of the Key lime pie, click here.

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