From satsumas and Buddha's hands to pomelos and finger limes, there's no need to fear these seasonal citrus treats.
For many of us it used to be that winter meant just a few things when it came to citrus, like, oranges and grapefruits. Now a walk down the produce aisle has all kinds of bright oddities on display, brightly colored bumpy beasts and funny fingered fruits that call out from their shelves like strange citrus sirens. Their colors tempt and they smell divine, but what to do with these curiosities?
While many of these originated in more exotic spots on the globe, they are now also grown in California and Florida, and a few other southern states. So for those of us in the rest of the country who are devoted to local food, we'll just have to wait for the stone fruits to appear. But for everyone else, bring on the quirky citrus.
1. Buddha's hand
Behold the beautiful Buddha's hand! This odd-looking impossible love child of an octopus and lemon may not have a lot of pulpy flesh, but its fragrance and rind make up for it. Smithsonian Magazine notes that its ancestor, the citron, may have been brought to China from India by Buddhist monks and cultivated in ancient China. Nowadays in China and Japan it is popular around the new year for its association with happiness, wealth and longevity. They've been grown commercially in California since the mid-80s.
The rind is not bitter like other citrus and it's wildly fragrant – think lavender meets lemon meets orange – which makes it the perfect candidate for marmalades and candied peels. It can be used to infuse spirits (like vodka or gin), used in baking, for teas and even around the house for cleaning and frarance.
There are generally two varieties found in the United States. Marumi kumquats are a bit rounder and pack less of a sour punch, while Nagami kumquats (grown in California, Florida and Texas) are oblong – about 1.5 inches long, more or less – and have pizzaz. I love to eat them as they are, but I also love to candy them to add flourish to desserts ... from angel food cake to chocolate mousse, a tangle of bright candied kumquats adds moxie. See how here: 8 odd things you can candy.
4. Finger limes
These aren't exactly snacking fruits, they're too tart, but they are fabulous to use in places you'd like a twist on citrus, so to speak. On fish, on mango or watermelon, in drinks, atop desserts – those bright pearls are just such fun. And with their minty rind, they would also be great for candying or transforming into marmalade. (See more about them at Shanley Farms.)
Use them as you would tangerines/clementines ... and try them in my favorite cake ever: The perfect clementine cake!