I can’t remember seeing a Buddha’s Hand when we were in Bhutan. Or in Bangkok. Not in Japan either.
Nor do I remember noticing any in California.
Where I have found lots of them is at Whole Foods in Vancouver. Believe me, they’re worth searching for.
Buddha’s Hand is a yellow citron the size of your hand and divided into finger-like sections. It’s believed Buddhist monks brought the fruit to China from India after the fourth century AD and historical records confirm it was an important fruit for centuries. As Helena Attlee explains in her book on citrus, “The fingers are created when the carpels forming the interior of the fruit fail to fuse together early in their development and remain distinct from one another.”
Buddha’s Hand symbolizes happiness, longevity and wealth so during the Lunar New Year (February 5 this year), people gift a potted Buddha’s Hand tree, give the fruit as a special offering at Buddhist temples and, in Japanese homes where its called “bushukan,” they place it atop rice cakes or use it in lieu of flowers. And in Lunar New Year celebrations, it is eaten.
Eaten? Buddha’s Hand is only rind. There’s no pulp, no juice (and no seeds). Raw, it tastes okay, it’s not sour and has a hint of sweetness but the texture is like spongy eggplant. How then do you eat it?
Intoxicated by its extremely wonderful fragrance, I first bought a Buddha’s Hand about five years ago. Choose one with a closed hand—a sign of freshness. Somewhere I read that its fingers “look like the tentacles of an anemone” and when the fruit matures, “the hand spirals out like an octopus,” a description I can’t better. I rest my Buddha’s Hand on the kitchen counter where it perfumes the room with a blended scent of lemon, tangerine and lavender. (Yes, it is used in potpourri.) A Buddha’s Hand can sit for about two weeks before its fingers start to gnarl, brown spots appear like weird fingernails and its bright, fresh-looking skin fades. (A fast-forward speeded-up senescence of what’s happening to my own hands.)
Before Buddha’s Hand ages too much, I Google “David Lebovitz Buddha’s Hand.” David is a world-recognized chef who has lived in Paris for many years and was one of the first food bloggers. His recipe for candied Buddha’s Hand is superb.
And what do you do with candied bits of lemony peel and thick fragrant syrup?
No hurry as it keeps for a year!
I turn to my favourite recipe for butter cookies (adapted from one by Libby Hillman) and bake in yellow, sugary bits of Buddha’s Hand—delicious. One Christmas I cut out tree shapes with the dough and decorated the cookies with candied bits of Buddha’s Hand. Some people eat it like candy. I also think it would be good coated in chocolate.
Candying Buddha’s Hand results in a syrup that when added to sparkling water, creates a refreshing drink. Some people shake the syrup into their martinis or infuse it into vodka to make homemade limoncello (“Buddhacello!”)
You can also cut up Buddha’s Hand into little raw pieces and add it to salads. I’ve read that it’s a good addition to an artichoke risotto; raw or candied the synergy of flavours does sounds appealing.
The scientific name for Buddha’s hand is Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis. It’s a small tree, ranging from eight-to-fifteen feet in height, although the dwarf variety is only five feet tall. The ones at Whole Foods come from California where farmers began growing Buddha’s Hand commercially in the 1980s, although it’s still a bit of a niche market.
Happy Lunar New Year; may 2019 be sweet for you.
Buddha's Hand Butter Cookies
- 1/2 pound butter
- 1/4 cup icing sugar
- 3/8 cup sugar
- 2 tsp grated orange rind
- 2 tsp grated Buddha's Hand rind
- 1 egg
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 1/4 cups flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tbsp cognac or bourbon or limoncello
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup candied Buddha's Hand made from David Lebovitz's recipe
- Make David Lebovitz's recipe for candied Buddha's Hand.
- Cream the butter and sugars until fluffy.
- Add the grated rind.
- Beat in the egg, then the egg yolks.
- Add the remaining ingredients and combine.
- Shape the dough into two logs and refrigerate until firm, about an hour.
- Cut into 1/8 inch slices and bake for 12 minutes at 350°F.
Hillman, Libby. The Menu Cookbook for Entertaining. New York: Hearthside Press, 1968. My butter cookies are adapted from a recipe in a cookbook given to me by my mother-in-law as an engagement present almost fifty years ago. Every recipe that I’ve tried in this cookbook is a winner. Thanks GS1.
Attlee, Helena. The Land Where the Lemons Grow. The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit. London: Particular Books, 2014.