Saturday, February 19, 2011

Buddha's hand

This peculiar-looking fruit is the Buddha's hand citron, or Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus. The ordinary citron is a round fruit that looks much like its relative the lemon, but unlike the lemon, its pulp is dry and tasteless. The citron's treasure is its inner peel, the pith, which is incredibly fragrant and flavorful.

The Buddha's hand citron is a variation - probably a mutation. The entire fruit is split into gnarled and twisted tentacles, making it look like a cartoon character. The fruit is entirely pith and peel - there is no pulp within, no juice and usually no seeds at all. It's propagated by cuttings and grafts.

Box of citrons at the Wednesday Farmers' Market in Santa Monica

Ordinary citron pith is usually diced and candied, and you can do this with the Buddha's hand, too. Some books suggest chopping the whole thing up into little slivers and scattering them on a salad or as a garnish. You can also infuse vodka with them - sounds like an interesting idea!

But the Buddha's hand is prized whole, for its shape. In Asia, where it was probably discovered, fruits with closed "fingers" are thought to resemble the closed hand of prayer. Because of this, and because of their fragrance, the fruits are left as tribute in temples. They are also given as gifts, to perfume rooms, linens, and clothing.

In Chinese fabric and pottery designs, the Buddha's hand is used as one of a grouping of three fruits (with pomegranates and peaches) known as the "Three Plenties" to symbolize good. The Pomegranate with its many seeds symbolizes progeny; the peach longevity, and the citron the blessings that bring happiness - whether spiritual blessings or material blessings like cash.

At a recent Asian art and antique exhibit, I found these Chinese ceramic replicas of the Buddha's hand citron. Known as altar fruit, these useful objects served as a temple offering when the fruits were out of season. The dealer said that these examples dated from around 1900 - 1930.

I thought they were lovely, but at $300.00 each, a little rich for my pocketbook.

Fortunately, the real thing is available at our local farmers' markets, for around $5. The one I brought home perfumed the entire kitchen for a week.

I think next time I'll try that vodka idea.


21 Wits said...

This is so incredible! Love it!

Alexia said...

Such interesting information, and great photos! I think the expensive replicas are far less beautiful than the real thing.

Thanks for a great post.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Learn something new everyday...or try to.

Thanks for Saturday, Aunt Snow!

JCK said...

They look a bit creepy to me. Maybe it's the rainy Saturday night. :)

cactus petunia said...

Mmmm. That vodka idea sounds good...let us know how it turns out!

cardinal said...

I woke up thinking about Buddha's hand, and can't tell you what a smile your pictures bring. I followed your link from Mrs.G's to add you to my bookmarks for FAD. I look forward to your archives.

Anonymous said...

Citron-infused vodka sounds wonderful! I'm sure it will turn out as terrific as your pies. :)

I use candied citron every December when I make Christstollen.

Unknown said...

Buddhacello is delicious. The aroma isn't quite as subtle as the fresh fruit, but it's wonderful. More floral and delicate than lemon. The candied fruit is great too. Especially dipped in (dark) chocolate.