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happiness, longevity, and good fortune
December 5, 2012 10:29 PM   Subscribe

The citrus fruit called Buddha's hand or fingered citron, which "looks like a cross between a giant lemon and a squid, and can perfume a room for weeks with its mysterious fragrance," is currently in season in the northern hemisphere. Lacking pulp and juice, it does have long, pointed "fingers" full of curious non-bitter white pith. The skin is yellow and smells like flowers and bright lemon.

From the UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection description:
In China the Buddha’s Hand citron symbolizes happiness and long life, because its name, “fo-shou”, has those meanings when written with other characters. Chinese like to carry the fruit in their hands, place it on tables in their homes, and present it as a sacrificial offering at temple altars. Though esteemed chiefly for its exquisite form and aroma, the Buddha’s Hand fruit is also eaten in desserts and savory dishes, and the sliced, dried peel of immature fruits is prescribed as a tonic in traditional medicine. The tree is very popular as an ornamental, often in bonsai form, in pots. The Buddha’s Hand was important by the 10th century A.D. in Fujian. Chinese artists classically depicted the fruit in jade and ivory carvings, in prints, and on lacquered wood panels (Simoons, 1991).

In Japan the “bushukan,” as the Buddha’s Hand citron is called, is a popular gift at New Year’s, for it is believed to bestow good fortune on a household. The Japanese buy the fruit at decorative ornament shops, and place it on top of specially pounded rice cakes, or use it in lieu of flowers in the home’s sacredtokonoma alcove (Elizabeth Andoh, pers. comm., 1997).
You can grow a Buddha's hand tree yourself, as long as you have a completely frost-free environment. While there are an estimated 2,000 hectares of Buddha's hand cultivation in China, UC Riverside estimates there were only about 10 hectres in California as of 2008. In the U.S., it's a rare—and expensive—treat.

So, you have bought a Buddha's hand. What will you do with it?

Feeling boozy? Make citron vodka or Buddha's hand creamy limoncello. (It doesn't curdle, because it contains no juice!)

Sweeten things up with candied zest, lemon pudding cakes, or shortbread cookies. If you're up for a challenge, tackle
black sesame macarons with Buddha's hand buttercream.

Or, you could just buy things that smell or taste like a Buddha's hand. St. Hangar One makes a citron-flavored vodka. The high-end English bodyworks company Molton Brown makes a line of bushukan-scented products.
posted by purpleclover (45 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cthulhemon! Want.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:31 PM on December 5, 2012 [13 favorites]


Buddha's Hand makes lovely infused liquors, yes.
posted by rtha at 10:34 PM on December 5, 2012


Why are there so few grown in California?
posted by Bwithh at 10:36 PM on December 5, 2012


Oh, it was basically a novelty in home gardens for a century after being introduced from China. The UC Riverside link has more details. Basically: limited audience, the trees are a little fussy, the fruit has to be hand-picked and processed and tend to mold.
posted by purpleclover at 10:39 PM on December 5, 2012


I've candied the zest. It was delicious. And then I had about a cup and a half of Buddha Hand-flavored simple syrup left over, which I used to make the cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, which was also delicious.
posted by KathrynT at 10:44 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been seeing these in local Asian markets but had no idea what do with them. Now I know, awesome.
posted by dual_action at 10:48 PM on December 5, 2012


Oh, Sideshow Bob fruit! I love these things. Unfortunately haven't seen one for years, due to living in frosty Northern England.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:00 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to make citrus curd with this and then make white-tea-and-buddha's-hand mini cupcakes.
posted by FritoKAL at 11:06 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I see them in grocery stores in Vancouver Canada.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:08 PM on December 5, 2012


Cthululemon > Lululemon
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:18 PM on December 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


They're definitely available in L.A. I've never eaten one, but last year my friend used one to make a vomiting-Cthulu-thingie jack-o-lantern.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:21 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


And if you've ever had your citron fingered, you know how painful that can be...
(rimshot)
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:30 PM on December 5, 2012


I see these from time to time here in the Bay Area. I will trade you every buddha's hand in the world for some fresh red currants. Please. I don't even need that many.
posted by eugenen at 11:43 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was there in the room when we settled on "Buddha's hand". We had to market the damn freak fruit, but it took several hours, sitting around the conference table, before we were sure that "Mohammed Toes" was just as bad an idea as "Taoist Elbows." Melissa went out to get coffee, and while we waited we rejected "Jew interphalangeal articulations of the hand".

Melissa pulled her car around, to give me a ride home. And we talked about some of this. She thought that "Inka Dinka Dink a pinkie" would be one way to go, but I said that "thumbnambulism" was the future.

It's all pretty Cosmic. I used to read palms, but now I have them sent to me by email. And if you haven't already posted your fingerprints to Facebook, who are you?
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:54 PM on December 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


I worked as a produce clerk in Seattle for awhile. We got these in every year and they slowly but steadily sold. We only ordered one or two cases though. I only experienced the scent once but it was surprisingly strong.

I will trade you every buddha's hand in the world for some fresh red currants.

We sold a whole bunch of dry pints of these sourced from a local farm. The only advice I can give is haunt the specialty food stores from the middle of June through the end of summer, though I don't know what's available around the Bay Area.
posted by edeezy at 11:56 PM on December 5, 2012


Hmm! These are being sold in our local HyVee produce section- think I'll pick one up tomorrow and play with it.
posted by drhydro at 12:28 AM on December 6, 2012


purpleclover: "In Japan the “bushukan,” as the Buddha’s Hand citron is called, is a popular gift at New Year’s, for it is believed to bestow good fortune on a household. The Japanese buy the fruit at decorative ornament shops, and place it on top of specially pounded rice cakes, or use it in lieu of flowers in the home’s sacred tokonoma alcove."

I've lived in Japan for 17 years, and I've never seen this fruit before. She must be getting bushukan mixed up with mikan, which is just a small mandarin orange, which is a popular fruit placed on pounded rice cakes as a New Year's decoration, but which looks exactly like a small mandarin orange, not a Lovecraftian horror.

And tokonoma aren't sacred, either.
posted by Bugbread at 12:37 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


eugenen, I've often seen baskets of redcurrants at the chinese market on Seventh and Clement in the Inner Richmond in San Francisco. They're labelled 'Berries', which is hilariously anonymous, and they're probably only there in season, which i think is late summer, but they're there every year.
posted by DSime at 1:48 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


FritoKAL, do you ship care packages? :-P
posted by eviemath at 1:50 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


It looks like a tree that grows octopi!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:54 AM on December 6, 2012


I first encountered a Buddha's Hand Citron last year -- I was walking through the produce section when I suddenly smelled heaven. It was lemony and flowery and if I could've distilled that scent into a perfume, I would've.

Anyway, I made a killer Meyer lemon and Buddha Hand jam, and I've been a huge fan ever since. Can't wait for this year's crop!
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:35 AM on December 6, 2012


Well this is timely. I found an old, unopened bottle of Smirnoff vodka in my Grandmother's basement--left when one of the daughters' beaus worked at the UN and brought cases of duty-free liquor to the house, the story goes--and was thinking of making Buddhacello with it. Now I'm sort of obligated.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:47 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a big fan of buying produce and then just letting it sit there until it turns to mush, so the aromatic properties of this fruit appeal to me. How long should I expect it to perfume my home before it begins to attract vermin?
posted by orme at 5:19 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of these just more or less fell into my lap a couple of years ago. It had been used in staging a photograph of Asian objects and once the shot was done, the props were discarded. It was rescued by someone who thought, quite rightly, that I might like to have it. I was delighted. It perfumed the room for weeks and was a real conversation piece. If I had ever heard of it before then, I'd surely have tried to find one for myself; it's that wonderfully exotic.
posted by Anitanola at 5:40 AM on December 6, 2012


The Buddha's Hand I planted three years ago has its first (and so far only) fruit on it and it's nearly ripe. It probably weighs more than the tree itself and is held up by a very sturdy system of sticks I installed back in July. I've babied this thing like crazy and I still haven't decided what to do with it, so this is awesome, thank you!
posted by elsietheeel at 5:49 AM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


I knew I had seen these before somewhere!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:50 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wonderful post. Nice way to start the day, reading about Buddha's hand fruit. Can't wait to smell one. Thanks purpleclover.
posted by nickyskye at 5:54 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whole Foods in California has these right now, at least in Orange County.
posted by Huck500 at 6:19 AM on December 6, 2012


I saw one of those a couple weeks ago in my regular supermarket in Connecticut. Had no idea what it was and thought it was one of the weirdest things ever, although oddly aesthetically pleasing.

I think the limoncello recipe needs a name change. "Buddha's hand creamy limoncello" immediately made my mind go to "hand cream." Not what one wants in one's liqueur.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:21 AM on December 6, 2012


I worked as a produce clerk in Seattle for awhile. We got these in every year and they slowly but steadily sold. We only ordered one or two cases though. I only experienced the scent once but it was surprisingly strong.

What store please?
posted by bq at 6:33 AM on December 6, 2012


My local market has these here in Hong Kong! Cthulemon ftw.
posted by mdonley at 6:35 AM on December 6, 2012


You can grow a Buddha's hand tree yourself...

YES

...as long as you have a completely frost-free environment.

SHIT
posted by jquinby at 7:12 AM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Our backyard lemon tree grew the occasional fantastically strange Buddha's hand-like fruit. I miss that wacky tree.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 7:28 AM on December 6, 2012


I got three of these at the low-income food pantry. I candied the zest, but the food bank recommended putting a finger in soup (but I had three if them! That would have been a lot of soup!)
posted by vespabelle at 8:19 AM on December 6, 2012


I found some pictures of bushukan in traditional New Year's flower arrangements. Some of them are quite nice, but then sometimes it seems to add some kind of spazzy energy to the arrangment...
posted by mustard seeds at 8:43 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bugbread: I was hoping someone with knowledge of Japan would weigh in on that! Thanks.

(That was a quote from a UC Riverside page about the fruit. I personally don't know anything about the Japanese national relationship to citrus.)
posted by purpleclover at 8:51 AM on December 6, 2012


Bugbread, due to the frost-free environment that they require to grow, they are more common in Southern Japan. Mustard Seeds has some great pictures that people have posted!
posted by occidental at 9:13 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


We made limoncello from the peel of a Buddha's Hand citron. The fruit is extremely cool looking, but I much preferred the richer taste of the limoncello we made from Eureka lemons. The aroma of our Buddha's Hand citron seemed thinner, less complex.

(We liked the LA Times recipe for limoncello, but decided it was better with half the sugar.)
posted by Ery at 10:41 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saw these for the first time ever this fall. Smelled it and immediately thought it belongs in an adult beverage. I've got a cross between a barleywine and witbier aging in a carboy where instead of the traditional bitter/sweet orange peel I turned three of these into zest and added 10 minutes before the end of boil with about an ounce of crushed coriander. Smelled divine when I racked to secondary. I'll probably bottle this in another month and it should come around in early spring. Depending on how things smell/taste near bottling I may dry hop with more zest for a few days first though.
posted by Fezboy! at 11:02 AM on December 6, 2012


They had these at our local Whole Foods in MA last week. I knew what they were, but I didn't know what I could do with them, now I hope they still have some when we go grocery shopping tomorrow. Vodka here I come!
posted by lydhre at 11:08 AM on December 6, 2012


Oh man, I can't decide between beer or vodka. I worry the aroma might get lost in a beer.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:29 AM on December 6, 2012


Surprised no one has mentioned that the citron also has spiritual/mystical significance in Judaism! That might even explain why some mainstream grocery stores keep them in stock.
posted by miyabo at 1:02 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Although I guess the Jewish significance is for any variety of citron, not just the squidy-looking ones.)
posted by miyabo at 1:04 PM on December 6, 2012


What store please?

Metropolitan Market. I don't remember when exactly in the winter they came in but you can call ahead. I never did much shopping in the International District but I'm sure you'd have luck there as well.
posted by edeezy at 2:39 PM on December 6, 2012


Surprised no one has mentioned that the citron also has spiritual/mystical significance in Judaism! That might even explain why some mainstream grocery stores keep them in stock.

(Although I guess the Jewish significance is for any variety of citron, not just the squidy-looking ones.)


I was just thinking about the time my Israeli friends told me about buying citrons for Sukkot in Israel, and how apparently there's a lot of competition there to find the biggest, best-looking citron to use for your blessing. They never mentioned this kind of citron, though.

But speaking of strange fruit, I actually had a strange fruit–related reminder to self on my phone for this evening: "Look at the starfruit." Earlier, a coworker had walked into my office eating a chunk of mango on a fork, and I correctly guessed what it was—my officemate walked in a minute later and was completely stumped. We launched into a discussion of exotic fruit we'd seen for sale locally—and I suddenly remembered that my husband and I had discovered starfruit on sale at our formerly dingy local supermarket a week ago, and that I had no idea what had become of the fruit, nor had I ever looked up how to eat it.

So. I found the starfruit, I looked at it, and then I found this set of instructions for eating it. And then I came here and found everyone talking about noodly citrons.
posted by limeonaire at 4:16 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


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