‘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.
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.
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.
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