Hello, faithful readers, this guest post is by my wife, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, and you’re in for a treat. As you’ll read, she loves all kinds of citrus, and I think you’ll be pulled right into her adventures.
I should have known better. We’d spent months on the Big Island and visited Kaua’i many times, shopping at farmers’ markets wherever we could. The often dizzying variety of citrus fruits led us to calling anything tangerine-like a “tangie” and realizing that something called a lime might have deep orange insides. Was a large orange-skinned fruit an orange? Table labels at the markets only give prices, usually scribbled on a bit of cardboard e.g. ‘3 for a dollar,” 5 for a bag, not what the fruit actually is. That’s not always helpful!
These aren’t citrus, but you get the idea.
So there I was in the kitchen, about to make a lovely citrus and banana fruit salad for a potluck. I picked up one of the lovely orange-colored, orange-sized fruits I’d carefully chosen at the market and cut into it.
These sure look like oranges, don’t they?
But No! Lemons in disguise.
Whoops—the flesh was not orange but rather a palish shade of yellow. My tongue test revealed the truth—my two beautiful orange fruits were in truth giant lemons in disguise. All I had now for citrus was a couple of small, very juicy tangies that I couldn’t convince to be sliced into nice pieces but rather collapsed into mushy bits. So much for my contribution to the meal.
So many fruits, from tiny orange-colored calamansi to giant pomelo!
Untangling the truths of Hawaiian citrus abundance is made even more challenging by the antics of the sellers. A case in mind—one Saturday morning I saw some lovely green fruits in a bag and wondered what they were—I remembered hearing of ‘finger limes’ and wondering about them, so I was delighted when the seller called them by that name.
I bought a bag of the fruit. But when I examined one carefully, I became confused. The skin couldn’t be peeled—it was very thin and one with the flesh. I looked online and found that finger limes have nice big juicy globules of juice inside that separate out like the eggs in caviar. Not these fellows—their flesh is just one continuum, no segments of any sort. So, not citrus—just given the name ‘finger limes’ because the seller needed to label them in a familiar way.
I wrestled with my curiosity for days until I met for lunch with two friends who had been living on the island for some years. They will know, I thought. But neither one had even seen one of these before. Then in frustration, I cut one in half down the middle and looked at the section. Ah ha! The insides holding the seeds formed a pentagon, like a starfruit! The flesh had the character of a starfruit! Whatever it was called, it must be a relative of starfruit.
ASAP I got home I googled ‘starfruit relatives’ and got my answer—these dill-pickle cucumber-sized fruits are called bilimbi, and are giving the right to confer “umpteen benefits for human health”. The seller didn’t know about health benefits; she had just said you could slice them and cook them with fish. They grow copiously on the trunk of the tree, which can become so covered by fruit that you can’t see any bark.
Photo courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr Flickr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/]
After that experience I became more wary and saw right through the next overt mislabeling of a fruit. By far my favorite Hawaiian citrus is the ‘calamansi lime,’ which has a complex tang just a bit less sharp than a lemon. These modest little fruits start out green as a lime should, but then ripen into a bright orange skin. The flesh starts out orange and stays that way—the only truly limey thing about these ideal juicers for salad dressing and papaya seasoning is that not-quite-ripe green coat.
So when Greg spotted a bag of lovely green and orange colored fruits that were clearly calamansis labeled as “Key limes” he bought, knowing they were definitely nothing like Key limes other than being green and small.
So if you come to Hawai’i and are tempted by some beautiful citrus, just know that you might be in for a surprise when you cut into it. It’s all part of the delicious adventure!
Thank you, Dorothy dear, for your zingy guest post. Mwah!
Such a treat to see a posting from you, Dorothy! Looking forward to reading more interesting posts from you, also! XoxoC
P.S. it’s matzo time again! Made a small mountain the other day. Thought I’d you, both, and voila, found a new post from you! Yay.