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Lime

Sunday, 26 August 2012

These are the last two limes in my home.
It is likely that lime is the greatest taste on the planet.  And perhaps its most versatile.  Sweet, sour, bitter and still friendly with salt, the lime complements the entire palate of humanity, including umami, the elusive fifth savory taste that Americans are slowly becoming familiar with. 

I had limes twice today--added to my iced tea at lunch and squeezed over my guacamole at supper.

But consider also, what but a lime would you squeeze over your grilled fajitas at a Mexican place or add to fish sauce and sugar when you are making pad thai?  Would your gin and tonic work without the lime to pull those two tastes together?  Could a lemon stand in?  Would your salsa acknowledge the tomato's place as a fruit without lime? 

Limes would work as an aftershave.  Lemons are best left to Susan Sarandon standing over the sink in Atlantic City, the ultimate complement to the restoration of her sweet femininity trapped in a small coastal town, but not to the global unease.

Unlike lemon, the flavor of limes cannot be overwhelmed by sugar.  Dump enough sugar into a lemon dessert, and eventually the lemon gives in, content to be a flavoring for the sweetness.  Its tartness can be tamed; its bite can be mellowed.  In fact, lemon is often used as a flavor enhancer--a spash of lemon juice added to strawberries makes them taste more like strawberries. 

Not the lime.  When lime is in a dish, you can always taste the lime.  Add limes to a cherry drink, for example, and the limes refuse to take a back seat to the sweeter cherries. Lemonade is for the masses; limeade is for the sophisticate.


The taste of lime is far more complex than the other popular citrus fruits (though the grapefruit is also one of life's more interesting flavors), so much so that, tasted alone, the essence of lime also contains hints of coconut.  Think about it; study it on your tongue.  Put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up, by all means, but even without the coconut, you would still get the coconut.  But have the coconut alone, and you would be pining for lime, for its clean ability to cut through the coconut's sweetness.

I remember that transcendent moment in 1987 when I went to a conference in San Antonio, Texas, and at the locals bars, everyone was drinking a beer in clear bottle that arrived at the table with a wedge of lime standing in the mouth of the bottle.  I remember how we pushed the lime down into the bottle, and how that lime taste changed forever how beer tasted, how beer went with things.  I remember how we went back to Tennessee and waited and waited for that beer to make its way to us so that we could slice our limes and stick them in the bottles and feel better about life.  Now, of course, there are all kinds of fruits in beer--lemons, oranges, blueberries, apricots, but back then, crossing the border from Mexico, there were only limes.  And nothing has ever tasted better.

Limes make me happy.  Yesterday, at Wal-Mart, I saw small Mexican limes, not much more than an inch long, fatter than kumquats and faded green, and I picked them up and fumbled them through my hands, having no idea what I would do with them, but knowing that their limeness, like all other limes, was contained within.  For I smelled them and their nod to either rum or onions was intact.

To think that one might start a meal with a lime in a drink, eat a simple salad of lettuce and tomatoes tossed with lime, olive oil, salt, and pepper, followed by grilled meat's smokiness mellowed by lime, and finished with a Key Lime pie is testament to the fruit's range. 

And what meets chocolate so well?  Take a wedge of that same pie and freeze and then dip it in some melted chocolate.  Freeze the whole thing again, if you like, with a popsicle stick at the base, and you will take yourself to a street in Key West, where they know that the lime is central to being.

It's funny, isn't it?  To think about a certain taste and how it can encompass all of life?  Cilantro is that way, present in every culture around the world, and so is lime.  And, not surprisingly, the two go together well, but even more so where where the temperatures are hotter.  There is something reassuring about knowing that there are flavors that work anywhere in the world.  As if such a small thing can bring people together, to nod in mutual happiness over a shared taste, to pass the bowl of lime wedges from one person to another.  At this point, I'm not sure how else we'll get there.

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