Wonderful things happened when Australia was ripped away from the rest of the world's landmass around 65 million years ago. That continental isolation yielded some quirky and celebrated evolutionary wonders in both flora and fauna. The platypus and koala get most of the play, but the rainforest fruits of Australia are just as mind turning, specifically the diminutive finger lime.
Australian finger lime is a citrus that evolved under the harsh and heavy influence of an unforgiving environment, and it shows. The tree limbs are long, arching canes covered in a thick mass of very sharp spines that almost dominate the foliage.
The fruit is worth a little blood loss — and, once in hand, it isn't nearly as punishing as the tree it came from. The rind is leathery but thin, and once cut the inner fruit immediately starts oozing out in surrender. Yes, oozing. While the inside of the finger lime is sectioned like most other citrus, the fruit juice vesicles (often called fruit caviar) seem to have a mind of their own and spill out once unconfined. The color alters as the fruit matures, starting out a beautiful clear green and blushing into pink and reds as the season progresses. Australia is currently developing many different varieties of the finger lime, but the fruit has been slow to latch on here. Read on for where to find them here in L.A.
Mud Creek Ranch only has about a dozen finger lime trees in their orchard in Santa Paula. Those spines make harvesting tricky, if not outright painful, and the trees' growth habit veers on the short and stocky side, an attribute of their usual place under a thick rainforest canopy. Both of these attributes reveal why commercial interest has been lackluster. Chef interest though has been keen, as the fruit — both eye catching and very flavorful — makes an attractive addition as a potent and pretty condiment in both food and drink.
Finger lime season in California starts in the fall and stretches into winter. Robin Smith says her crop this year has been really good and that the season is progressing nicely.
“We are about in the middle of [the season],” says Smith. “You can find them in Santa Monica on Wednesday. Most of them have pink fruit now.”
If you blend both lemons and limes and add just a mild touch of the bitterness of a grapefruit, you have the taste of a finger lime. It is tart and refreshing, and its scarcity demands a pretty heady price. Still, there are few market experiences more delightful than grabbing a finger lime at one stand and then walking down to your oyster shucker of choice (the Oyster Boys of Farm Fresh Shellfish or Carlsbad Oyster Farm at the Hollywood market) and plunking a small pile of finger lime orbs on top of a briney, fresh oyster.
You can also find Mud Creek Ranch at the Ojai (Sunday), Hollywood (Sunday), Santa Monica (Wednesday) and Santa Barbara (Saturday) markets, though they don't always bring the finger limes to each market. Special requests are often honored, depending on supply.
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