A word to the prospective Kaffir Lime shopper: don’t buy yours from Logee’s Tropical Greenhouses (my fault — I didn’t read that it came in a 4-inch pot, so ended up paying close to $20 for a 2-inch tall tree that won’t fruit before my children set me out on an ice floe) or from Growquest Growers (total scam and won’t send you your plant at all). I finally got a 5-gallon tree from a seller on ebay called socalnursery760, for $50 (+ $50 shipping), but after all that disappointment, I was happy to pay $100 just to get my fleaking tree. It’s a good looking tree, about eighteen inches tall, with several fruit already set.
I’ve been wanting one of these bad boys for a couple years. My Ma planted the seed when she bought one in aught-seven. At the time I wasn’t particularly impressed, but like all good seeds, it stuck and grew. Most of its appeal is in its weirdness: the fruit is knobby and brainlike, kind of like an ugli fruit, but green of course, and about an inch to an inch and half in diameter.
So why eighty-three different names for one plant? Kaffir is a white Afrikaner pejorative for blacks meaning “infidel,” from the Arabic “kafir” that Portugese explorers brought over to describe the native Africans they encountered. Kafir was originally from the Semitic K-F-R (love that vowelessness) meaning “to cover.” It’s a derogatory term still and several alternate names like Thai, Makrut, Wild, or Asian lime are used to avoid causing offense. Malayan slaves brought to the Cape region influenced South African kitchens, and kaffir lime probably got its name from that association. As for Hystrix, it’s Latin for “porcupine,” owing to the thorniness of the tree, which it ain’t very, or not nearly as very as a Meyer lemon for example.
The other weird thing that I love about this plant is it leaves. They’re double on the stem, one on top of the other. Kinda crazy-like. Plus they’re sweet and smell great.
The fruit doesn’t give much in the way of juice, but the leaves are all over the place in Thai and Indian food, and the rind of the fruit can be zested and used for flavoring as well. Good for cookin’, yep.