Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Key Lime, a Natural History (Without Salt)

According to the Universtity of Florida's IFAS Extension website, the Key lime is found in " hot semitropical, subtropical, and tropical regions of the world." India, Mexico, Egypt, and the West Indies are major Key lime producers. Oddly, the website claims that the little green citrus is "naturalized in hammocks." That sounds like the life. I wish I were naturalized in hammocks. I'd be happy to be naturalized in an Adirondack chair. Or a sleeping bag. Anywhere recumbent and outdoors--that's the stuff.

The history of the Key lime is the stuff of exploration history, tall tale, bondage, and quests for freedom. Southern Asia is the original home of the Key lime. It managed to find its way east thanks to the Arabs (most likely Sunni, right GW?), who taught the Key lime how to disconnect their bodies from their branches and roll along the ground, keeping the sun just off to their left, and navigating at night by using On Star. The fruit migrated slowly across North Africa and into Spain and Portugal. Like all communicable diseases, parasites, pack animals, fruit, vegetables, xenophobia, and crescent-shaped steel battle helmets, the Key lime made its way to the Americas by stowing away on the Mayflower, as it brought its first shipment of Mexican immigrants to Missouri to work with Lewis and Clark at the new Tyson plant. Once in the Americas, the poorly treated Key lime (scientific name: Citrus aurantifolia Swingle; common name: Swingy the Green Conqueroo) "escaped cultivation," and found refuge in the cyprus swamps of Tidewater Virginia and Maryland, where it was eventually enlisted by Harriet Tubman to assist on the Underground Railroad. Over the next twelve years, Swingy led over three hundred citrus fruits, from pink grapefruit to tangelos, and a cucumber to freedom in the newly established state of Sweden.

Described by the IFAS Extension website as "precocious," The young Swingy learned to play seventeen different musical instruments, and had published three volumes of confessional poetry by the age of sixteen. An early poem won an award at the Citrus School for Minor Fruit:

Green you see is skin on me
white you see is pith
I'll never be the fruit you see
if you're the fruit I'm with.

The poem earned Swingy seven dollars and a certificate. The poem was published in the local newspaper and was noticed, in a grand stroke of fate, by HL Mencken as he was walking down the street during a long weekend vacation. Mencken wired the paper to Al Gore, who was the king of the Internets at the time. In less than a week, Swingy was a worlwide sensation, appearing on Larry King, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and the Daily Show, simultaneously.

While the little fruit "is well adapted to a variety of soils," it is very sensitive to cold temperatures. This is why Swingy rarely travels north in his old age. As a youth, he could tolerate temperatures well below freezing, but as age has pursued him across North Africa, Spain, Portugal, the Atlantic, and Sweden, and finally caught up with him, he has become more reclusive and finicky. Recently, when placed in a chair in front of an open refrigerator, the fruit nearly died from exposure. Of course, one may ask why the fruit was placed in such a precarious position in the first place, but that is a story whose main focus is Gimpy, the Blind Pig Foot--an entry for another time.

As with all things, when at an advanced age, a susceptibility to disease becomes common. In Swingy's case, the fruit can fall victim to greasy spot, fungus lesions, and anthracnose, which is not to be confused with anthrax nose--something completely different, I would suspect.

At any rate, old as Swingy may be, he makes a great pie. Or, at least, I hope I make a great pie out of him. Tomorrow. It will be an honor to employ such a majestic, honorable, totally cute ingredient in my latest culinary adventure. I just hope a) he isn't suffering from greasy spot at the time, and b) that Gimpy, the Blind Pig Foot doesn't show up.

2 comments:

Magdalene said...

Now THAT is the kind of History Mr Wachter could be proud of.

comoprozac said...

You add this post to Wikipedia. R likes to get her key lime juice from the FLA Keys.