Thursday, June 11, 2020

Thai lime, makrut - just not the k-word


[This post was originally published on October 2nd, 2016 - the Thai limes have since moved with us and live on the Windsor Terrace where they are flourishing. I only bring them indoors when the temperatures are below 50'F at night - I am a more relaxed citrus parent, now!]

I moved the makruts (Thai limes) to our bright bedroom windows about a week ago, as overnight temperatures started falling below 60'F. Former citizens of Georgia, this will be their first New York winter.

They look very healthy and will have to be transplanted to deep pots, next spring, and later I will be pruning them to stay small. I use the leaves, of course, but fruit would be a wonderful bonus. If you've never smelled the bumpy-textured, green, fresh limes you're in for a treat when you do: intensely aromatic and very different from the grocery store Persian limes that we buy day in, day out.


"Kaffir" is a chilling word for South Africans; in South Africa it is a racist slur (still) used by racist people to refer to black and brown people. The US has the n-word. South Africa has the k-word. Its history is bloodily painful.

Still known as k-limes in many homes and listed as such by most growers, food stores and on menus, the enlightened and informed - the woke - call Citrus hystrix either Thai lime, or makrut; both are appropriate and time-honored names.

The Oxford Companion to Food agrees, and lists the fruit under M for makrut, with full explanation under the letter K. Modern Farmer published a good essay on the subject, too.


Above: to open a box that says this is startling.

Not one of my attempted reviews - 5-star for plant quality, packaging, speed of delivery, but with this one criticism - was published on Amazon, where I bought the trees. So I left a question about their name on Amazon: "Are you aware..." blablabla. The same night the grower called me, to my surprise. I felt he responded positively then, as well as in a later follow-up email, from support@lemoncitrustree.com [the company has since changed ownership].

I directed him for reference to the useful Missouri Botanical Garden's Plant Finder website, which is up-to-date in terms of this information.

But after four weeks neither the Amazon listing nor the grower's own website, Lemon Citrus Tree, reflects any changes at all, which is disappointing.

From a seller's point of view there is an economic issue: potential customers searching for the better-known k-lime will not land up on a site selling Thai lime or makrut. And a sale will be lost. But the marketing gods are in the details, and there are ways around this. The least I expect is a short explanatory paragraph. That would be the right - and very easy - thing to do.

If you find a lime sold as "kaffir," anywhere, carry the torch, and speak up.

____________________


12 comments:

  1. totally agree. The grower could easily change his listing to include the correct information, too. Most "serious" gardeners would probably appreciate knowing and changing the name. Goodness knows, they follow the changes in botanical names all the time.

    Waht pretty windows you have.

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  2. In South Africa's apartheid era, to be called a "kaffirboetie" was the same as being called a "n....lover" in this country. It is a deeply offensive slur, I will add a voice to the plea for a more accurate name.

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  3. I learn such interesting and useful info while reading this blog. Thank you very much, Marie.

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  4. "Kaffir" is derived from the Arabic word that is usually translated into English as "non-believer".

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    Replies
    1. That is exactly what the racist lady said. And it is 100% irrelevant. Anonymous.

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    2. I am a White American woman,widow of an American Black man, mother of beautiful Black men,grandmother of wonderful Black children.
      I thought I had heard every ugly word. God,I'm exhausted from all the chaos of universal hate.

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  5. Hi Marie. Great blog ! You write well and the photos are lovely. I am from Centurion South Africa and I am looking for seeds for a (Citrus hystrix DC., Rutaceae) Thai lime tree. We have a large garden and I have a bunch of trees and we grow a lot of our own veg. This includes curry leaf trees because my Indian wife and I enjoy spicy and fragrant foods. Anyway I was wondering where you bought your seeds from of if you know where I could order some seeds from on-line from the US? Amazon do have a few listings - but the reviews and feedback are terrible. Many thanks. Hendrik Potgieter.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Hendrik - I ordered 3-year old trees, not seeds. My friend Donovan Kirkwood in Cape Town sells small trees when he has them in stock, and there is a nursery in Tulbagh (just called Tulbagh Nursery), too. I am not sure if they ship trees for customers, but maybe they can help you. You can find Don on Instagram @donovankirkwood - or email me and I will send his info to you myviljoen(at)gmail (dot) com Possibly he can help with South African seed.

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  6. Hi Marie, I'm so glad I learned about the derogatory nature of the K word. I would never have had any idea! I've been telling everyone I know. Thai limes from now on. What about the Kaffir Lily? I see it is native to South Africa. I'm thinking that the term is also offensive and we should use an alternative?
    Thanks, Gisellah

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    Replies
    1. The word is offensive in any context. The flower is a clivia.

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