Tahitian Limes: The All-Purpose Fruit

Tahitian limes are a hybrid of the Mexican lime and lemons. That is somewhat of an over-simplification, and there are a variety of lime types, including Bearss and Ponds. Tahitian limes travel well, have a milder flavor than key limes, and are relatively easy to grow. They are cold hardy when compare to Mexican or Key limes, but even the Tahitian lime likes a warm climate. It also enjoys well-drained, fertile soil, and might need added fertilization throughout the fruiting season.

Limes in History

Limes were originally grown in Persian and in Arabia. The word lime comes from the Persian word “limu” or lemon. They were first grown commercially in Babylonia, in an area that is now Iraq. The fruit and even the leaves are used extensively in cooking and in making drinks. The fruits keep well, even better than lemons, and were a staple for the British navy. In fact, they were such a staple for the navy, that for a time they were considered a military secret since scurvy was a debilitating disease that could easily strike down a whole crew when they were far from land. This is why British navy were sometimes referred to as “limeys”.

Growing Limes

Limes can be grown in just about any warm weather area as long as they have a well-drained soil and a moderate amount of rainfall. They do not need pollination to fruit, so one tree will produce a cloud of sweetly scented blooms and an abundance of fruit.

Limes can also be grown indoors as a potted plant, or in a greenhouse. They take a little more work than just growing them in the back yard, but a dwarf lime tree makes a beautiful indoor air cleaner while producing those mouth puckering sour fruits.

What Can You Do with A Lime?

Lime trees are beautiful, and they produce tart, light green to pale yellow fruit. But what can you do with the fruit? And what is this thing about cooking with the leaves? The answer is “a lot.”

Following the suggestion in the classic song, you can ‘put the lime in the coconut, and drink it all up’.  Quite aside from the zany lyrics, lime juice and coconut milk are the ingredients for several popular drinks, several of which are alcoholic. This last bit is probably why the classic song has the imbibers calling the doctor. You don’t have to put the lime in the coconut, however. Add water and sugar to lime juice to make a tasty limeade that is refreshing and packed with vitamin C.

Pie, Oh, My!

If you don’t happen to have a key lime on hand, you can substitute Tahitian lime to make the classic ‘key lime’ pie. Tahitian limes aren’t quite as strong in flavor, but you can produce a creditable pie using them. To understand how the lime pie works, let us visit a little kitchen chemistry.

Aside from the graham cracker crust, or regular pie crust, a key lime pie uses a specific property of milk: when acids are added to it, it tends to coagulate. Some recipes call for eggs to be added to the mix, which turns the pie into a custard. When heat is applied to the mixture (with or without eggs) it bakes to the familiar creamy texture associated with key lime pie or with cheese cake.

Here is a basic recipe:

One premade graham cracker crust.

In a bowl combine:

3 cups sweetened, condensed milk

½ cup sour cream

1 tablespoon lime zest

¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (or bottled juice if your lime tree isn’t bearing yet)

For a richer mix, you can add two egg yolks, then reserve the white to make a meringue – just as you would for lemon pie.

Whip the ingredients together, pour into the shell. Bake at 350 degrees F. for seven or eight minutes. Do not brown! A toothpick or straw inserted in the center should come out clean.

Other Uses for Tahitian Limes

Limes can be dried and made into a powder and used to flavor many different things. They can be substituted for lemon juice in any recipe that calls for it. But perhaps one of the most distinctive things you can do with limes is to pickle them. First, cut the limes into quarters. Sprinkle them with salt and let them stand for several hours. After they have finished soaking up the salt, rinse to remove any grains, and simmer the slices until they are tender. Meanwhile, squeeze the juice from seven to eight limes, combine with ¼ cup water, and one cup sugar. Simmer gently for about 25 minutes, but do not let boil. When the syrup is done, drain the slices and add them to it. Pack the results in clean, sterilized jars, and seal.

Literary Aside:

In Little Women, pickled limes is the impetus for Amy being removed from public school. The treat had been forbidden the girls at her school, yet Amy purchases a bottle of them because the other girls had shared with her and she had not been able to return the favor. She is punished by being made to throw the pickled limes out the window, and by having her hand smacked with a ruler. It is hard to forget the image of Amy taking the limes “two by two, and looking oh, so plump and juicy” to throw them out.


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