Australian Finger Lime Marmalade

By | Saturday, January 23, 2021 Leave a Comment

Several years ago I planted an Australian finger lime bush (Citrus australasica). It took a few years to get established, during which time I got just a couple fruits, then a handful of fruits, then more, and more, until now I harvest a couple of pounds per season (they are quite small, so that is a lot.) Though they are great on sushi, salmon, and a few other things, it’s not clear what else to do with them. 

The thing that is cool about finger limes is that when you cut them open, little balls of lime juice spill out. They are about the size of flying fish row (aka tobiko) and are sometimes referred to as “lime caviar”, which is an excellent description. Unfortunately, you can’t really taste them unless they get burst by your teeth when you chew them. So, they easily get lost in a lot of applications. I have read that bartenders have gone crazy for them, but when I use them in drinks they are a flop, because most people don’t chew their beverages.
 
A bowl of finger limes
Since I now harvest a lot of finger limes, I have been looking for things to do with them other than give them to my favorite sushi chefs and bartenders. The skin of the finger line is delicious, but sharp and (pleasantly) bitter. The fruit inside tastes much like standard limes – not identical, but similar. Taken together they have a unique lime flavor, but if you use the skin, the bitterness can easily become overwhelming. So how, I wondered, can I take advantage of so many fruits, and their skins, and manage the fact that the juice is locked up in tiny capsules. I concluded that marmalade could show off the special characteristics of finger limes.

I am working on a finger lime marmalade recipe. Note that this is a recipe in progress. I have made it just once, and it was only semi-successful. The result of my first batch is sourer and a lot more bitter than what I had in mind. It is nice as a garnish - a dollop on salmon is great, and it is a delicious accompaniment to brie on crackers, but it is not something you are going to want to spread on toast. The next time I make it, I intend to try to reduce the bitterness and increase its sweetness.

Even though the recipe isn’t ready for "publication", I present it here for your interest. Hopefully, I can get some comments and suggestions for the next batch (to be made after the next harvest.) Perhaps people in Australia, or elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, will make some marmalade now, and let me know how it went.

It is also worth mentioning that for the purpose of incorporation into a cooked product like marmalade, these limes freeze well. In fact, they freeze surprisingly well to store for almost any application. This first batch included frozen fruit collected over a couple of seasons, in addition to fresh. 

Left, fresh. Right, previously frozen.
My recipe is loosely based on a lime marmalade recipe from Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt. Mine is a new recipe due to the unique characteristics of finger limes, but I did use her recipe for the general structure. It is also assisted by ideas from the two web sites that claim a finger lime marmalade (which are almost identical to each other).

Also note that currently finger limes in the USA run about $30-$50 per pound. So, you pretty much must have your own tree to consider making this marmalade. The recipe below yielded 10 cups of marmalade. Thus, the cost would be between $10 and $17 per cup if one needed to purchase the limes.

And so, for your enjoyment, I present the “beta test” of my Finger Lime Marmalade, v1.0. 

Finger Lime Marmalade Recipe v1.0

Yield: 10 cups

INGREDIENTS:
  • 3.5lbs Finger limes.
  • 3.5lbs Sugar for macerating limes.
  • Additional 8oz sugar added during cooking.
  • ¼ C dextrose to reduce sugaring off (can sub Karo, or other non-sucrose sugar.)
  • 1 pkg liquid pectin (3oz).
  • Baking soda (optional).
METHOD:

Processing the limes took a fair bit of time and effort, so I did it in two batches over two days, then cooked them on the third day. I don’t think this is necessary, though macerating fruit for marmalade is generally a good idea to get it to release liquid and pre-absorb sugar. On the first day I processed about 1.5 pounds, macerating them in the refrigerator with an equal amount of sugar. On the second day I processed the rest, adding them to the same container, again with an equal amount of sugar. On the third day I cooked the marmalade.


Useful tools for processing the limes: knife, mini-rolling pin, and bench scraper.
PROCESSING THE LIMES: 
  1. Blanch the whole finger limes in boiling water for a couple minutes, then plunge them into cold water. This will help to remove some of the bitterness and make them easier to “squeeze” (see below.) Unfortunately, for v1.0 I decided that I wanted to retain some fresh lime oil, so I left about 1 cup of fruit unblanched. As noted, the marmalade was too bitter, so next time I will blanch the whole batch.
  2. Next, slice the stem end from each lime. Squeeze the fruit from the skins with a small rolling pin.

  3. Spread the pulp out on a cutting board to pick out all the seeds you can. This is a long, tedious process. Hey! Guess what! When I cooked the fruit, I found that any seeds I had missed floated to the top! Next time I will skip picking out the seeds and simply skim them off during cooking. Assuming that works, it will be a big time saver. If it doesn’t work, I guess I’ll have a batch of seedy marmalade.

  4. I did not do this, but next time I will re-blanch the emptied skins to try to remove some of the bitterness of the pith which is now exposed. Hopefully that won’t remove too much flavor from the end product.

  5. Chop the skins into pieces of a size that is pleasing to you. I started out trying to make neat, uniform disks, but quickly realized that I would go mad before I finished, so I resorted to just chopping. The result was fine. Disks would have been prettier, but not if they dragged me away in a straight jacket before I got done.

  6. Put the fruit and chopped skins in a container with an equal amount of sugar (by weight). Allow them to macerate in the refrigerator at least overnight. Note that it can be held this way for an indefinite number of days until you are ready to cook.
COOKING THE MARMALADE:


I strongly recommend investing in a copper jam pot if you do a lot of preserving. They are quite expensive (generally US$200 and up), however, using one makes preserving easier and produces a better product. Really. If you don’t have one and can afford it, you’ll thank me. 



Before starting, put a plate in the freezer with several spoons to use in testing for setting. 

Put the macerated limes into the pot along with 8 oz additional sugar (next time I intend to use more.)

Add the baking soda. Note that since the skins are very thin, this is probably unnecessary. Baking soda in marmalade helps to break down the peels, shortening the time it takes to cook and soften them.

Bring to a full boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Return the mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add the liquid pectin. Stir constantly while bringing the mixture back to a full rolling boil. Boil for one minute. 


Test for set and consistency using a spoon from the freezer (or any other method you prefer.) When the marmalade has set to your satisfaction, remove it from the heat. Allow it to cool for a few minutes to minimize separation of the fruit, skins, and juice in the jar.

For working with hot jam or marmalade, silicon gloves are a must-have.
Ladle into sterilized jars and process by whichever safe method you prefer.


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