Dancing Tomatoes

The first time I tasted citron caviar it was as if the sparkling Eiffel Tower was inside my mouth.  There was everything – the excitement of zingie tartness, the teeny sounds – or feelings? – of explosions as each little caviar-like ball popped to release its liquid., the bright acid that softened into an aromatic lime-like flavor.

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Celadon Orbs

The citron caviar, or finger lime, was new to me several years ago when I was served a pure fillet of cod topped with a mound of teeny celadon orbs.  I didn’t know what they were and the person who set the plate in front of me refused my question.  “Taste,” is what he said, and I did. That’s when the Eiffel Tower let loose and I discovered there was such a thing as a citron caviar finger lime, a thumb-sized citrus fruit filled with the tiny orbs.

The Aboriginal People Knew

It turns out that the Aboriginal People  long ago enjoyed the citron caviar which they harvested from the forests of what is now eastern Australia.  It is said they popped the tough-skinned fruit into their mouths and bit down to release its aromatic, lime-flavored-tinged-with-bitter juice which slaked their thirst.  This is ultimately believable because of all the juice inside a finger lime, and though the skin is rough and tough it has a deep and pleasing flavor which can be used as a seasoning.  Even the rather tough leaves are aromatic and can be slipped into a simmering sauce like a bay leaf.

About the Size of a Short Thumb

The fruit, which is about the size and circumference of a short thumb, comes from a shrub that can grow up to 8 meters in its indigenous environment, up to three meters elsewhere.  The Citrus australasica (ou Microcitrus australasica), thrives in the sun, cannot tolerate wind, and needs a cool winter.  While once exclusive to Australia, it is now planted in other areas of the world including Morocco, California, and even the south of France.  Despite its hardy aspect it’s delicate and the fruit must be harvested by hand at least for now, from branches garnished with vicious spikes, so it remains relatively rare.  That said, the price is dropping, making this novel citrus fruit increasingly available.

Easier to Find

I can now find finger limes in my local organic supermarket, and while I don’t use them indiscriminately, if I have some gorgeous fish there is nothing I love better than opening a finger lime and carefully extracting the bud-like vesicules, or tiny juice-filled marbles inside.  These are also delicious on fresh scallops, raw oysters, even dropped into a citrus cocktail. 

One Goes a Long Way

Try to find a finger lime – one goes a long way, and you’ll love the surprise on the faces of your guests when they too get the magic of the sparkling Eiffel Tower in their mouth!


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