Thursday, December 8, 2011

I ♥ limes

Winter is my least favorite season, but there’s one aspect that I like: fresh local citrus. Our Washington navel oranges won’t be ready for another month, but our limes are ripe now.

Our tree, a Bearss or Persian lime (Citrus latifolia), is on the edge of our driveway right by the sidewalk. There it gets about 8 hours of sun in the summer. We put it in the ground about 10 years ago as a smallish 5-gallon plant, and for the first five years it didn’t have a single fruit even though it flowered sporadically. I was very close to removing it when it finally started to produce. It must have heard and understood my threat!

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Our Bearss lime tree next to the driveway
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Notice the tall, gangly shoots on the right; they’re water sprouts from the root stock the lime is grafted onto. These are vigorous and thorny (unlike the Bearss lime) and take away energy that would otherwise be put into the grafted tree. As you can see, I haven’t been very good at removing the water sprouts this year, but I will do so this weekend.

John T. Bearss developed this seedless variety in 1895 in his nursery in Central California. It’s hardy, thornless, and produces relatively large fruit with a long shelf life. In fact, when you buy a lime in a U.S. grocery store, it’s almost always a Bearss lime. The only other lime variety of commercial significance is the Key lime, and it’s significantly smaller.

Commercial operations harvest Bearss limes when they’re still green, but we leave ours on the tree until they turn yellow. That’s when they are fully ripe. On the outside, they are virtually indistinguishable from a lemon at that point (in fact, they’re a dead ringer for a Meyer), but the inside is still green and the flavor is limey perfection.

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Ripe limes on the tree
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On the outside, it looks just like a Meyer lemon…
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…but inside it’s greener (although this particular one doesn’t look very green in this photo)

As much as I love lemons, I actually find limes to be even more versatile. They’re great in beverages and baking, and they’re indispensable in cooking (we make a lot of Thai-inspired dishes). Since we only pick what we need when we need it and leave the rest on the tree, we can usually make lime season stretch into February. The day we pick the last lime is a sad occasion; it means we’ll have to make do with store-bought limes for the next nine months. They’re still good, but not quite the same.

8 comments:

  1. Wait, limes ripen to yellow? I never knew that, and apparently have never seen a ripe lime before.

    If I ever move to a warmer climate (or at least get a house with more south-facing windows) one of the first things I'll do is get citrus trees. To be able to pick them yourself must be amazing.

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  2. The flavour of lime is even better, and you're right, it's more versatile!

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  3. Nothing like fresh picked citrus, what a luxury. Ever now and again a local grower lets us have some from her greenhouse, the lemons are so sweet you can almost eat them like mandarins. Delicious

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  4. Nothing like fresh picked citrus, what a luxury. Ever now and again a local grower lets us have some from her greenhouse, the lemons are so sweet you can almost eat them like mandarins. Delicious

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  5. I dug up my Mexican lime tree a few years ago and replaced it with a Bearss- I am a much happier person now. Bearss is sooooo much more useful than the mexican key lime- well, unless you really like to make pie. But I still hold the Meyer lemon as my fave :)

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  6. Carri, I like key limes, too (and yes, I love key lime pie) but for sheer versatility and usability they can't hold a candle to Bearss. Squeezing those tiny key limes is tiring!!

    In addition, key limes aren't fully hardy here whereas Bearss limes have no problems coping with temps in the lower to upper 20s.

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  7. yeah, i'm not a huge fan of squeezing. With 12 citrus trees my arm gets tired, regardless of what juicer I've purchased. But, citrus is a passion, and it brings a little sunshine to these cold winter months, so I cherish them!

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  8. I would probably kill to have fresh limes. Limes have to be one of the best fruits out there.

    -Tom

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