This weekend may be one of your last chances to hold a Buddha’s hand at a Santa Monica farmers market. Murray Family Farms is one of the few California cultivators of the Asian citron fruit, known for its many fingers and named for the teacher of enlightenment.
“Bakersfield weather is very, very unpredictable,” said Jazz Bohdi on a recent Saturday selling the citrons at the Virginia Avenue Park Farmer’s Market where the Murrays have a stand every weekend. The citrons have been selling out quickly there and at the Wednesday Downtown market. They generally last through the end of February and a week or so into March.
If you manage to snag one (or more) this weekend, Bohdi recommends chopping it into large chunks and saving it in the freezer for zest. Inside the curled yellow fingers there is very little or no pulp; the fruits are all peel and pith, like the spongy white tissue between wedges of a lemon.
Bohdi says she usually buys them in threes. One is used for zest. The second, she saves in the freezer to boil during cold season because the steam eases congestion.
“In ten minutes you get your lungs back and can breathe,” Bohdi said.
Her third Buddha’s Hand doesn’t get eaten at all.
“I’ll use one whole one for potpourri,” Bohdi said. “I chop it up and put it in a wicker basket and let it dehydrate in a cool area. It makes the whole house smell like you just cleaned. It’s the best lie for housewives. It’s awesome.”
In China, the fruit symbolizes happiness and long life, according to information from the University of California Riverside. The tree is popular in Asia as an ornamental, often in bonsai form. A 19th-century treatise on citrus mentioned Buddha’s Hand had been brought to California from Japan, but as late as the 1980’s it was difficult to find outside of private gardens. Now the fruit is available at Asian markets, some groceries stores, and two Santa Monica farmers markets while in season.
“They’re so funky on the tree,” Bohdi said of the plants on the Murray’s 350 acres of farmland in Kern County. The fingers start out closed and then bloom outward. Since their season typically begins in October, Bohdi calls them witches’ hands. “We say it’s the haunted lemon tree on the farm.”
While some make the fruit into medicinal oils, the fruit can easily be turned into candy. Simply chop up a hand, blanch the cubes and then boiled them in simple syrup. After draining and cooling overnight, the resulting gummies are similar to candied lemon peel: chewy and sweet and not at all bitter.
Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.