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Exploring Limes: Recipes to Help You Harness the Power of Sour

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

This article explores the amazing things you can make with limes!

This article explores the amazing things you can make with limes!

"The lime trees were in bloom. But in the early morning only a faint fragrance drifted through the garden, an airy message, an aromatic echo of the dreams during the short summer night."

— Isak Dinesen

What Do You Dream Of?

What is the stuff of your dreams? What images fill your daytime reverie or invade your thoughts during sleep? Perhaps you drift to far-away places—strolling on white-sand beaches glistening below azure skies. Maybe you envision hiking in wildflower-strewn alpine meadows beneath sapphire-blue glaciers. I have a friend whose thoughts drift to sailing across a tranquil sea—destination “nowhere." My husband’s passion would be pushing it to the limit on a switch-back road with the top down on the Miata.

I dream of food, or more specifically, I dream of cooking food.

Here Are a Few of the Foods That Fill My Dreams

  • Light and delicate cream scones—triangle-shaped breakfast pastries studded with fresh blackberries and drizzled with a lime zest glaze.
  • A salad of bright red tomatoes, creamy avocado, and sweet cooked shrimp drizzled with a tangy cilantro-lime vinaigrette.
  • Chicken thighs simmered to mahogany perfection in a sweet/savory sauce of brown sugar, soy sauce, and lime juice.
  • A luxuriant cream pie—the graham cracker crust is buttery, the filling a delicate shade of green, sweet, creamy, and tart with the juice of key lime.

We’ve covered all of the bases—breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. And what is the common thread? All of them are flavored with and enhanced by lime.

Meet the Family

In researching this article, I learned that the lime plant is extremely adaptable and hybridizes easily—that’s good news (unless, of course, you are a horticulturalist or food historian). Daniel Stone explains it this way in the February 2017 issue of National Geographic:

“So many cultivated species have come from so few primary ancestors. Just three, in fact: citrons, pomelos, and mandarins, all native to South and East Asia before they started their journeys west. Such simple lineage is the result of impressive commonality. Almost all citrus has the rare genetic combination of being sexually compatible and highly prone to mutation. Such traits allow their genes to mix, for thousands of years on their own, and eventually, at the hands of humans. The product of so much natural crossing in the wild and selective breading at research farms and in field is every orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit you’ve ever eaten.”

Many think that the lime originated in Malaysia; those first fruits were the C. aurantifolia, the one we identify as the key lime. From there it gradually migrated westward from China, India, and Southeast Asia to the kingdom of the Medes and the Persian Empire.

In 711 A.D., limes were introduced to Europe but under less than ideal circumstances. It was in that year that the Moors, under the leadership of Tariq ibn-Ziyad, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and invaded Spain.

“The reins of their horses were as fire, their faces black as pitch, their eyes shone like burning candles, their horses were swift as leopards and the riders fiercer than a wolf in a sheepfold at night. . .The noble Goths, the German rulers of Spain to whom Roderick belonged were broken in an hour, quicker than tongue can tell. Oh luckless Spain!”

The Moors brought with them not only their religion but numerous cultural and scientific influences. We can thank them for a unique language refined with over 4,000 Arabic words and phrases, including algebra, the concept of zero, the guitar, flamenco dance, irrigation, and an enriched cuisine—can you imagine a Spanish table without chickpeas, dried fruits, almonds, and the limon?

They Moved to America

There are several theories on how the lime (actually limes, lemons, and oranges) were introduced to the Americas, the West Indies to be exact. Some believe that Christopher Columbus brought them to Hispanola—other food historians point to the Spanish Conquistadores.

What is known is that Henry Perrine was appointed as United States Consul in Campeche, Mexico in 1827. Shortly after he arrived at his post, he received a letter from the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. President John Quincy Adams wanted an accounting of all plants in the territory that were (1) beneficial and (2) could be cultivated in the United States. Perrine was no stranger to horticulture and research. It was his study of quinine that led to the advancement of its use in the treatment of malaria. He collected numerous samples, filling more than 100 boxes. By now you’ve probably guessed that one of the plants he selected was the lime.

There Are Many Varieties

There are numerous varieties of limes; many of them hybrids (a cross of the lime with other citrus fruits). They vary in size, flavor, and acidity and so have different uses in cooking and baking. Here’s a chart to explain.

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Lime Varieties

VarietyCharacteristicsUses

Australian finger lime (Microcitrus australasica)

Cylindrical, bumpy (looks like a cucumber). Flesh looks like caviar.

Garnish

Bearss (aka Persian) lime (C. latifolia

Large oval shape, seedless, less acidic

All-purpose fruit for cooking and baking

Kaffir lime (C. hustrix)

Distinctive bumpy skin, extremely tart, low amount of juice

Only the rind is used for flavoring and pickling

Key lime (C. aurantiifolia)

Small, round, strongly acidic and aromatic; many seeds and thorns

Cooking, baking, cocktails

Rangpur (aka Mandarin) lime (C. jambhiri lush.)

Looks like a small orange

Marmalade

A Little Bit of Trivia

In the 1800s the British navy began to include limes in their rations to prevent scurvy (a Vitamin C deficiency that causes bleeding gums, tooth loss, anemia, and the inability of wounds to heal). Lemons were also used, but limes became the preferred fruit because they have a lower amount of sugar and so don’t ferment quite as easily. Because finding a way to prevent scurvy was so important, the daily citrus allowance was a closely guarded military secret. There’s no doubt this is why British sailors were eventually dubbed “Limeys.”

Blackberry lime scones

Blackberry lime scones

Blackberry Lime Scones

This recipe for blackberry lime scones is rich and buttery; the blackberries keep the bread moist and the lime adds a bright pop of flavor. The tang of lime zest is a perfect counterpoint to the sweet sugar glaze.

Strawberry lime muffins

Strawberry lime muffins

Strawberry Lime Muffins

These strawberry lime muffins are a little sweet, a little sour, and promise a pop of flavor in every bite. They are quick to mix up—just five minutes from bowl to oven, and in less than one-half hour you can have these breakfast/brunch treats ready for your family.

Shrimp, avocado, and tomato salad with spicy cilantro-lime dressing

Shrimp, avocado, and tomato salad with spicy cilantro-lime dressing

Shrimp, Avocado, and Tomato Salad with Spicy Cilantro-Lime Dressing

This summer salad is light, bright and bursting with flavor. Briny shrimp, creamy avocado, and sweet ripe red tomatoes make a satisfying light meal when paired with homemade tortilla chips and spicy cilantro-lime dressing.

Southwestern chopped salad with cilantro dressing

Southwestern chopped salad with cilantro dressing

Southwestern Chopped Salad With Cilantro Dressing

Here's another salad idea that is vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free. Kaitlin dresses colorful beans and fresh, crisp vegetables with a creamy cilantro dressing; fresh lime juice makes it tangy and bright.

Crispy cilantro lime chicken

Crispy cilantro lime chicken

Crispy Cilantro Lime Chicken

Crispy cilantro lime chicken is juicy on the inside, golden and crisp on the outside, cooked in mouth-watering flavorful pan drippings! There are many cilantro lime chicken recipes out there, but in my book crispy skin wins every time.

Cilantro lime honey garlic salmon

Cilantro lime honey garlic salmon

Cilantro Lime Honey Garlic Salmon

This cilantro lime salmon is baked in foil so that you can have:

  • Easy cleanup
  • Moist, perfectly cooked salmon
  • Bold flavors in every bite
  • Quick-cooking—only 30 minutes from oven to table
No-bake key lime pie

No-bake key lime pie

No-Bake Key Lime Pie

This creamy-tangy key lime pie is a perfect summertime dessert. You can even freeze it for a refreshing treat when the weather is hot and humid. Fresh lime juice is best, but you can certainly use bottled. Don't have key limes? Don't worry. Regular limes will work just as well.

Lime bars

Lime bars

Lime Bars

This is a twist on the traditional lemon bar. These lime bars begin with a buttery shortbread crust; a tangy lime custard bakes on top. They bake in 40 minutes, but plan ahead because they need at least two hours of chill time in the refrigerator. Easy-peasy.

Sources

© 2021 Linda Lum

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