Or at least his hand. I lay blame for the spell I’m under directly at the feet of my dear friend Peter, who is not a Buddhist but is an incredible chef. Peter introduced me to Buddha’s Hand citron several years ago when he showed me his tree laden with oddly shaped yellow fruit that did indeed seem to have fingers. He explained that the fruit has no juicy flesh or seeds and is prized for its aroma and usefulness in cooking. Aha!
Last winter Peter generously shared several of the fruits with me and I candied them, using the same method I learned for candied orange rind. This confection truly knocks socks off at ten paces and while it can be wonderful in many dishes, my first batch was eaten right out of the jar. Well, that was that. This spring I purchased my own tree and it is producing fruit!
The larger fruit here is 2.5 inches long now and can be 6-12 inches at maturity this winter. I can’t wait to candy this citron and use it in Brandied Cherry Conserve next spring. Rachel Saunders calls it “an indispensable ingredient” for that recipe.
Where did this exoctic fruit come from? A 19th century paper on citrus mentioned that the Buddha’s Hand citron had been introduced to California from Japan, but for about a century thereafter the tree was rarely grown in the state. In the early 1980s virtually no commercial plantings of Buddha’s Hand existed in California, but as of 2008 there were at least 25 acres farmed by specialty citrus growers. The fruit is available at local farmer’s markets in the San Francisco Bay area.
In Japan Buddha’s Hand is a popular gift at New Year’s, for it is believed to bestow good fortune on a household. In China it symbolizes happiness and long life.
I won’t be seeking out anyone to break this spell. I’ll stick with the potential for good fortune, happiness and long life — not to mention some mighty fine eating!