My nephew was the first to challenge me with this bizarre-looking fruit. We were at Berkeley Bowl, and to keep him and his brother occupied while my sister and I shopped, I presented them with a challenge―go to the produce department and choose something for us to cook that they had never eaten before. Interestingly enough, both came back with fruit from the citrus family. Tommy, the youngest and least adventurous (foodwise only!) in the family chose grapefruit. Really? Could this be true? Well of course it was―I doubt he’d even eaten an orange at that point! Will came back with a Buddha’s Hand citron. That cheeky monkey turned the tables, and now I was the one being challenged!
It looks like a yellow squid and could have starred in Finding Nemo. I’d seen this curiosity of a fruit before and passed it by. Will’s interest in Buddha’s Hand piqued mine.
It’s a fascinating fruit. There are no seeds or pulp inside. Cutting it apart, we discovered you can enjoy the entire fruit. I especially liked the taste of the velvety smooth white pith. It is delicately flavored with tropical notes―sweet, with a light crunch and lightly floral. You expect it to taste more lemony and citrusy but it is far more complex in its fragrance and taste.
Back in the kitchen that day with the first one, Will and I made pastry cream infused with Buddha’s Hand citron. We used it to fill cream puffs dusted with powdered sugar. When cooked, the citron’s flavor is more floral, fruity and tropical with a hint of fresh coconut, macadamia nut, banana, light caramel and cinnamon. Delicious!
Now that I am familiar with it, I use it often. It can replace lemon or lime in many dishes. My favorite is to cut it into cubes to add to a salad with a light lemon vinaigrette, or to use it in pasta instead of lemon. And of course to infuse the rind into creams for ice cream or pastry cream like Will and I did―or into vodka for a martini.
This Asian fruit also symbolizes prosperity, so―always looking for easy ways to improve my prosperity―I decided to plant one near my front door. (Thinking of feng shui, so the money could flow in the front door).
As a plant, Buddha’s Hand is demanding. It can’t take freezing temperatures so I have to wrap it with Christmas lights and cloth to warm it during the winter. At first it was stingy with fruit, but I think it was saving up for the grand finale, like a fireworks show. This year I have at least 10 on my tree and they are all large and fragrant. The challenge now is to find a way to preserve this treasure to enjoy all year!