The Key To Fresh Kaua‘i Limes

The Yoshii family grows tropical fruit on more than 30 acres in Moloa‘a. Dickie and Linda Yoshii started farming in 1975 on Kaua‘i. Their son Richard, along with his wife, Jenai, are taking over the farm and preserving it for their 2-year-old son Leighton.

What’s growing now: Apple banana, avocado, bonsai (juniper, jade, desert rose), breadfruit, calamansi, caimito (cream apple), chico, chili peppers, culinary herbs, dragon fruit, flowers, ginger, grapefruit, guava, jackfruit, limes (Tahitian and Key), longan, lilikoi (purple), lychee, macadamia nuts, mango, mamey sapote, mountain apple, oranges, papaya, pomelo, rambutan, soursop, star fruit, Surinam cherry, tamarind, tangelo, tangerines, taro (dry-land)

KEY LIME

Mexican limes, also called West Indian limes, Chinese limes, acid limes, bartender’s limes and Key limes, are more flavorful and interesting than the larger Tahitian lime. They are very tart and have a complex, spicy aroma. About the size of a golf ball, they are yellow when ripe. The flesh is greenish-yellow, juicy, seedy and very acidic. All citrus fruits are berries with many juice sacks.

Key limes went to Europe from India, and Spanish settlers brought them to the New World. Although common throughout the tropics, Mexican limes can only be grown in the most sheltered parts of California and Florida. The scrubby trees have naturalized themselves in many areas where they have been cultivated, including the Florida Keys.

Flourishing in Hawaii since its introduction during the early part of the 19th century, Key lime is the most adaptable of citrus fruits to Island conditions.

Season: Limes are nearly always in season, the heaviest crop coming in late summer and early fall.

What to look for: Look for limes that are pale yellow and fully mature, but they are often sold at the green stage. Select limes that are heavy for their size, indicating a lot of juice. Skin should be smooth, leathery and free of brown or soft spots.

Storage: Key limes should not be refrigerated but kept at room temperature out of direct sunlight and used within a week.

Preparation: Limes pair well with Latin and East Indian food. The juice “cooks” and tenderizes raw fish in ceviche and tartare preparations. A squeeze of lime perks up low-acid fruits such as avocados, mangos and papayas. Authentic margaritas, guacamole and chutney are all impossible without Mexican limes.

A squeeze of lime will brighten the flavors of most dishes. However, the penetrating flavor and spicy fragrance can be too assertive and jarring if not used carefully.

Tip: To get the best yield of juice, make sure limes are at room temperature. You don’t need a fancy gadget to juice citrus.

Just cut in half and hold over a strainer to catch seeds, and then stab the flesh with a fork, twist and rotate until no more juice comes out.

Health benefits: In several villages in West Africa, the inclusion of lime juice during the main meal was determined to be protective against cholera. Researchers experimented with the addition of lime juice to a sauce eaten with rice, and in this role lime juice was also found to have a strong protective effect against cholera.

Yoshii Farm produce can be found at: Farmers Markets: Kukui Grove, (Mondays at 3 p.m.), Waipa (Tuesdays at 2 p.m.), Kapaa (Wednesdays at 3 p.m.). Restaurants: Oasis on the Beach, Lappert’s Hawaii. Grocery: Times, Papaya’s Natural Foods and Cafe, Harvest Market. Call Richie at 651-1558.

Daniel Lane photos

KEY LIME PIE

I have a friend who doesn’t like cake, so I made him this Key lime pie for his birthday. Since then, it’s become a favorite. The custard is easy to make, and the macadamia nut crust adds a robust flavor to the tart pie. Makes eight servings.

For Filling:

3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup Key lime juice
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For Crust:

1/2 cup macadamia nuts
9 graham crackers (2 1/4-inch-by-4 3/4-inch crackers)
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place crust ingredients into a food processor and process until grainy like sand. Press into a 9-inch pie plate and bake for 10 minutes until crust is golden brown. Cool.

In a medium-sized stainless steel pot, whisk together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in water and lime juice, then egg yolks and butter.

Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly. Once it starts to thicken, simmer for one more minute, and strain into the prebaked pie shell. The mixture will become very thick very fast. Cool to room temperature.

To avoid a skin from forming, press plastic wrap on top of custard and refrigerate for three hours.

Marta Lane is a Kaua‘i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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