Some years ago I bought a Buddha’s Hand tree on a whim. It’s gnarled finger-like fruit fascinated me even thought I didn’t know how I would use it or if the tree would thrive in my San Francisco garden. Sandwiched between two rose bushes next to a fence, it grew slowly the first few years. Finally, in its fifth year, it produced a few tiny green fruit that looked like miniature hands. As the fruits grew they turned yellow. That first year I used the fruits as table decorations.
This year the tree burst into what seemed like commercial production. I harvested the fruit in three waves. It graced the center of the table during dinner parties, I took fruit to friends’ homes when they cooked dinner, I cut off the finger-like projections and candied them like orange peel, and I made preserved Buddha’s Hand following a recipe for preserved Meyer lemon in The New American Olive Oil. I tossed pieces in salt, packed them in jars, and, because Buddha’s Hands have no juice, I used Meyer lemon juice instead.
These all seemed like good uses for my crop, but the idea that fascinated me the most was a twist on Limoncello, the Italian aperitif. Why not use Buddha’s Hand instead of lemon? So I cut up fruit, placed it in a jar, added vodka, sugar, and vanilla bean and put the jar on the back kitchen counter to sit for forty days, the recommended time for making the green walnut liquor, Nocino. When it was ready, I strained the liquid, which had taken on a yellow hue, into a clean jar and put it in a cool dark cupboard, ready to be served as the finale to dinners with friends.
So if life gives you Buddha’s Hand, consider making Buddhacello.
About 2 quarts
2 quarts vodka, divided
7 ounces granulated cane sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
1 pound 2-½ ounces Buddha’s Hand citron, roughly chopped
Put 1 quart of vodka in a 3-liter glass jar. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the jar and add the bean as well. Add the other quart of vodka and the chopped Buddha’s Hand. Stir once more.
Cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth. Put the jar in a sunny spot and leave it for 40 days and 40 nights.
Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Taste for sweetness. If you would like it sweeter, make a sugar syrup with equal parts of sugar and water and add it a little at a time to correct the taste. Pour it into clean jars, affix tops, and keep in a cool, dark place. It will keep at least 1 year.
Serve very cold, or over ice.