Technically speaking, finger limes are bush food. That’s the term for native Australian plants that are edible. Early settlers in Australia left the finger lime plants standing because they provided a delicious burst of puckery, sour goodness for thirsty travelers.
Finger limes are prized not only for their unique flavor, and their pearl-like texture, but because their harvest season is limited and their shelf-life is short. The best way to obtain finger limes is to be in Australia during harvest season, and to look for them in a local farmer’s market. In that way, you will obtain these dainty little limes when they are at the peak of their flavor and freshness.
Finger limes are well named. Each limes is about the size of an adult’s pinky finger. But they are not small when it comes to their burst of flavor or their popularity. It is supremely fortunate that Australian botanists suggested growing finger limes as a commercial crop.
Today, around ten tons of finger limes are sold by Australian growers. Nearly 50% are frozen and marketed to other countries around the world. Unfortunately, at this time, it is difficult to get fresh finger limes unless you purchase them where they are grown because, like many other things, fruit flies love them.
If you live in a tropical or subtropical area, finger limes are not difficult to grow. As you might guess, since they are an Australian native, they are hardy in most places that can grow citrus plants. The easiest way to grow finger limes is to purchase started trees that have pieces from mature trees grafted onto sturdy root stock.
Finger limes can also be grown from cuttings and from seed, but your nursery man will have healthy plants that are already at the point where they can easily be set out. A grafted finger lime bush will produce fruit at around age three years, but will be more prolific by its sixth year of growth.
Although not difficult to grow in the right climate, orchard owners should be aware that they have heavy water needs, and that the fruit needs to be protected from the sun during the hottest part of the day. Fruits that get too much sun can be scalded, producing a hard, brownish area on the skin.
They don’t seem to require a lot of fertilizer, although most growers seem to have good results with an NPK fertilizer that is light on the phosphorus.
These lovely shrubs are most frequently planted out during the spring. Their best growing and flowering will occur during five months of summer, with the finger sized fruits creating the climax of the season. The finger-sized fruits will be hand picked when they are ripe. Finger limes will not ripen off the tree, and the fruits will ripen at different times. Human picking is essential to get the best fruit.
These tasty fruits will be eaten raw, added to drinks, used as a substitute for caviar in sushi, and in many more ways. The fruits, depending upon strain, will range in color from a dark green to a delicate pinkish red. Each color has its own unique flavor, although all are recognizably finger limes.
Australian Finger Limes can be grown almost anywhere in subtropical and tropical climates as long as the soil is well drained. They are not fond of wet feet, nor do they enjoy the cold. They make a lovely understory shrub that is attractive to both bees and birds – perhaps just a little too much so, if you want some of the fruit for yourself.
Commercially, they are often grown in long windrows, stretching north to south, giving the plants an equal chance at the sunk. Several rows will allow the trees to help protect each other from storms.
Overall, there is a consensus that it is a good thing that botanists suggested domesticating the prickly plant known as the finger lime. It is beautiful, easy to grow, light on fertilizer and produces a supremely tasty little fruit that can be added to drinks, sprinkled on salad, used as relish on fish, and so much more.
Exercise your imagination with the many ways that finger limes can be used in your cuisine. Or how these shrubby trees can become part of your lawn and garden landscaping plan. Commercial growers usually focus on one cultivar, but if you are growing them at home you might want to experiment with branching out into several kinds.
Regardless of the type you select, it is certain that all finger limes are tangy and delicious.