This Week's Podcast: Tart and Sweet: Surprising Limes
Click on the small black arrow on the bar to listen, or the MP3 to download the show:On this week’s show, I talk about things that are happening in the “hort lab” – the windowsills in the kitchen. I am propagating some plants from seeds, rooting cuttings of others and hoping for the best. There is snow covering the garden outside, but the plants in the windowsill have already noticed that the hours of daylight are growing longer. There seems to be something new to see every single day. On this show, I share another wonderful discovery.
When I was in California, recently, visiting the garden of Brandon Tyson and Noel Gieleghem, I met some limes. There was the common Bearss lime, and the less familiar squat and wrinkled Kaffir lime, the leaves of which are used in Thai cooking. I was surprised so see Bearss limes that were ripe.
There are only a few limes sold in grocery stores: dimpled Mexican limes (including little Key limes) and the larger, smooth Bearss limes. Limes are picked before they are ripe and shipped and sold when their skins are green to differentiate them from lemons. But Bearss limes, for example, are pale yellow when they are ripe. And the flavor is subtle, fragrant and a bit floral. (Left, top to bottom: Kaffir, ripe Bearss and Key limes.) The flesh is very pale green. The smell of the fruit is heavenly, and a bowl of them can fill a room with their perfume.
The real revelation was a fruit I had never seen or even heard of before –“Australian finger limes” (Citrus australasica: above, left). The taste is tart, like a lime. The unique thing about finger limes, besides their color (some are nearly black) and shape (like little pickles) are that the vesicles, the juice cells within the pulp of the fruit, are spherical and compressed within the thin leathery skin of the two-to-three-inch long fruits. When you cut or “snap” the fruit in half and squeeze them, scores of tiny vesicles ooze out (above, right: courtesy phillipsfarms.net). The vesicles are not like other citrus. They are separate and crunchy. The nickname – citrus caviar is right on.
In Australia, finger limes are widely available, and there are many selections with different colored flesh. In the US only a few suppliers grow fruits to ship fresh for a few months during the fall (phillipsfarms.net).
I found a few sources for trees: one for a small grafted plant [larrysorchids.com] and another for a lovely patio tree (left) [surlatable.com]. I bought one of each. The leaves are small, and like many citrus plants, the stems have thorns. Both of the trees are grafted. I am not sure what the understock is, but I hope they are grafted to dwarfing stocks that will keep the plants compact. Pruning the tips of each stem will encourage branching and thus, more twigs that might flower and fruit -- with luck – in my lifetime.