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Buddha’s Hand Citron: Lemon with a Twist

August 30, 2013

‘I am not an animal. I am not an animal. I am a human being…’

Imagine a scene where a malformed citrus fruit is cornered in a street and taunted by a bunch of better-looking lemons, mandarins or oranges. The scene from David Lynch’s 1980 film The Elephant Man came to mind the longer I stared at my Buddha’s Hand Citron.

Purchased recently from the Victor Harbor Farmers’ Markets just south of Adelaide, this strange creature is one of the oldest citrus fruits and originated in India or south-east Asia. Also known as Fingered Citron, it’s the size of a small hand and has no pulp or juice, but its fingers’ white flesh and aromatic rind can be used for flavouring dishes.  Fingered Citron

I’d never cooked a citron and wanted to use it creatively, but back in Sydney, I wondered if (just like the good doctor in The Elephant Man) I should show this freak of the citrus family some compassion too. It was rewarding me with such a heady scent I considered trying what the Chinese and Japanese do: propping it in a corner as a room freshener.

Using it as a jewellery/ring holder would only be of temporary use until it went mouldy and attracted buzzing insects.

Italians love their citrons (albeit without fingers) and something sweet was calling. I could make a liqueur like a Limoncello – or my recent triumph Mandarinetto. Maybe preserve it in syrup to make a ‘cedro sciroppato’ for use in pastries like cannoli or sfogliatelle?

I was more drawn to a dry, sugar-coated texture when I remembered a favourite Italian rice cake my mother used to make. Her Triestine cookbook recipe for this Koch di Riso (koch means ‘cooked’ in German) included candied peel. The idea of making my own peel (or succade) rather than using the commercial variety was tempting. It was also appealing, but that’s such a bad pun I’ll move on to the recipe suggestions from The Littlest Anchovy blog.

I’ll admit to squirming a little when slicing the 13 citron ‘fingers’ from the Buddha’s Hand Citron before cooking them. But it’s thought that Buddha preferred the fruit with its fingers closed (resembling a hand in the act of prayer) and my citron’s fingers were outstretched, so I persevered. Chop chop chop.  Candied Peel made from Buddha's Hand Citron

The reward for my surgeon’s skills was bountiful: a jarful of crystallised fruity bits for the Italian rice cake, as well as the cooked fruit’s leftover syrup which is the most fragrant cordial I’ve ever tasted.

Who would have thought something resembling a cross between a lemon and a squid could produce such delights.

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The closest English recipe I found for the Koch di Riso cake is Two Greedy Italians Orange Rice Cake.

Citrons are also made into a carbonated drink in Italy sold as Cedrata.

Related post: Revenge of the Mandarin Stinkbugs

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13 comments

  1. Ambra, I love this post! Show me da Hand indeed. A fitting tribute.


    • Thanks Lyndal. I’m now officially addicted to da Hand. Wish you could have tasted both the candies and cordial. Looks like I’ll have to make some more to bring to Victor Harbor next time I visit.


  2. Love this recipe, I will definatly try it (if I ever manage to find a hand)


  3. Never seen a fruit like it. Wonder if it tastes like cedra?


    • Hi Mette. I’ve only ever tasted the candied cedra not the fresh one, but I think they are similar. However the Buddha’s Hand Citron seems to have a much more fragrant and complex scent than both the lemon and other citrons. Wonderful!


  4. […] Sancin has a great blog happening at The Good, The Bad and The Italian and I just love how she stores her buddha hand […]


  5. I saw these at the Royal Adelaide Show last week, on display by the citrus industry people from the Riverland. They sliced off a teensy piece for me, which they said to rub between my fingers to get the smell. Heady indeed! But then, not being near a bin and not wanting to throw it on the ground, I popped it into my mouth! (I eat raw orange peel too, so it wasn’t odd for me…!) It was just delicious raw, but you couldn’t eat a lot at one time.

    The citrus people also told me that these wonderful fruits don’t go off for “ages”, and that you can just put them in a fruit bowl and slice bits off as you need them. When pressed, they said “ages” could be up to several months. I’d almost be prepared to get one to try that theory out.

    Their advice was to put the peel in anything at all – stir fries, cakes, biscuits, vegetable dishes, curries – just about anything. I wish they’d been selling them there, or I would have bought one, but they said to try the Central Market in Adelaide.


    • Hi Mary. Yes, the taste lingers in the mouth for ages, so they make great breath fresheners (apart from room deodorisers). I only used mine for candied peel and cordial, but would love to experiment more when I next can find some to buy. I don’t know how long they last: I used mine two weeks after buying it and the leftover core that I put in the fridge lasted another two weeks before going mouldy. Maybe they’d last longer out of the fridge? Can’t wait to see. Thanks for your comments.


  6. […] Buddha’s Hand Citron: Lemon with a Twist di Ambra […]


  7. […] Buddha’s Hand Citron: Lemon with a Twist di Ambra […]


  8. Hi Ambra, thank you once again for sending your amazing recipe! Here is the full link of all the entries http://www.dolcesenzazucchero.com/la-raccolta-di-weekend-herb-blogging/ to the latest edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Dolce Senza Zucchero, Ivy


    • My pleasure Ivy. Glad you enjoyed it.



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