When that old adage “The grass is always greener” was coined they must have been thinking about gardeners — or maybe they were just thinking about gardeners like me — because as much as I love my gardens and appreciate the variety of plants this climate can grow, there is a part of me deep down inside that really, REALLY wants to try gardening in a warmer climate. That yearning rises up to the surface most especially when it comes to growing citrus.
Don’t get me wrong, I can grow citrus, just not in ground and certainly not outdoors year round. I have a small key lime and a small kumquat tree in pots that I diligently schlep outside in the summer and back indoors just before the first frost. They blossom and flourish during those months on the roof, but I spend the cold months indoors chasing light for them as best I can. They do produce — there are four kumquats on the tree as I write this. It’s possible, but a small struggle and I am definitely limited to plants that will thrive under these parameters. If I had more space and bigger windows I could definitely pull off more.
And yet, I dream about a Meyer lemon tree thriving in a fantasy yard and covered in more of those delicious thin-skinned lemons than I can handle. Oh, if only to have the problem of too many lemons. I dream about homegrown limes, soft and fresh off the tree, completely unlike the thick-skinned, tough little rocks we get at the supermarket here in the Cold North. The first time Davin and I traveled to Mexico in 1998 we nearly lost our shit over a lime tree next to the bus station. We watched as some kids played around knocking limes off the tree with huge sticks. Once the kids left I scooped up a lime they had left (probably considered the crappiest one and not worth taking by the standards of those kids) and held onto it for our entire 2 hour journey, both of us smelling it, squishing out the oils, and taking little bites, marveling over how it was the best lime we had ever seen in our lives. And it really was, the best lime we had ever seen in our entire lives up to that point. Davin eventually ate the thing whole, rind and all — that’s how good it was. Now, imagine an entire tree of those limes. I imagine Flying Dragon trees — they don’t really grow much that is edible but, wow, are they gorgeous! And best, if not craziest of all, growing my own Buddah’s Hand citron or some other ridiculously unreal citron variety. Can you imagine a tree with those octopus-like creatures dangling from the limbs?
I suppose the demand isn’t high for citrus trees here in Canada, because even though some of these plants are possible given the right conditions and a bit of work, they’re impossible to source out. I’ve been lucky enough to get the trees I have. Meyer lemons are about impossible to find. Yet when I travel to the U.S. citrus trees are easy to find. I’ve purchased unusual citrus trees for events in New York City and Chicago. The one we found at Sprout Home in Chicago was particularly huge and gorgeous, covered in heavy, variegated fruit. And in Austin, Texas… well, don’t even get me started on the wonderland that is a garden center in Austin. Sigh. The Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon sells all sorts of potted citrus trees from Flying Dragons to Buddha’s Hand for about 15 bucks a pop. I wanted so badly to take one home with me but alas, the powers that be do not allow it in your luggage (and for good reason). I found some interesting citrus leaves and fruit (including Kaffir Lime) for cooking at an Asian food stand in Vancouver’s Granville Island Market and brought a few home to enjoy since there was no border crossing on a trip like that. Unfortunately I did not find any actual plants.
Fortunately, just last week in Toronto I was FINALLY able to find a Buddha’s Hand citron. Just a fruit, not a plant, and the thing probably traveled about 20 million miles to get here, but it was exciting none-the-less to finally get a chance to cut one open and see what’s inside.
And here’s what it looks like:
Buddha’s Hand is a juiceless citrus made up entirely of rind and the white pithy stuff. I’ve read that it is mostly used to scent a room. Believe me the smell is amazingly strong. Davin says it’s the first thing he smells when he walks through the door. Apparently, when it comes to eating, it is best used to make candied rinds, flavor alcohol, or cooked with fish. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my Buddha’s Hand but I’d better make some decisions fast since I’ve already cut into it.
Know of any recipes or ways to use this citrus? I’d love to hear it.