Pops of Citrus
What started as a retirement property purchase and project for Jim Shanley in 1998 has transformed over the years into a full-fledged father-daughter operation in the niche specialty fruits market. Tucked off Highway 41 between Morro Bay and Atascadero, Shanley Farms (shanleyfarms.com) includes 40 acres of finger limes, avocados, goji berries, passion fruit and coffee.
Shanley purchased the property in 1998 and planted his first avocado trees in 1999, with hopes of generating a steady income stream that would allow him to eventually ease into retirement with his wife and their newly constructed dream house. A few years later he also acquired 62 acres of ranch land in Visalia that were already producing avocados, oranges, lemons and kiwis. While on the hunt for unique fruit varieties, he took a fortuitous trip to UC Riverside’s Citrus Variety Collection. Walking the rows of exhibits, he stopped by one last booth before calling it a day.
“Literally the last thing I saw was finger limes. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen and I wondered why I had never seen them before,” he says. The professors were unsure if the fruit would be available commercially—but Shanley knew he had to have it. After many discussions his perseverance paid off. “I placed the first order, got the first delivery and was the first person to plant them.”
Finger limes (Citrus australasica) hail from Australia, and despite their common name, are not genetically related to limes. They grow on extremely thorny, shrub-like trees that bloom and set new crops every two to three weeks from early spring into late fall. On the outside, a finger lime’s rind is a deep emerald green bordering on jet black; the inside features fleshlike pearls (akin to caviar) that range from pale green to blushhued pink to bold crimson. Once the fruit is sliced crosswise, the pearls squeeze out easily, yielding a mellow, citrus-driven acidity and crunchy, juicy, textural experience.
“I was in college when my dad started the farm, but we never knew this was going to be a family business,” says Shanley’s daughter, Megan Warren, who has a degree in applied economics and management from Cornell University and was working for Driscoll’s Berries in Kansas City when Shanley Farms’ finger limes started producing. “My dad kept calling me at work asking me what kind of retailers he should reach out to when I got this idea: ‘If you are going to keep calling me at work, then you should hire me!’” Within two weeks, Warren had quit her job and moved back to California; today, she is Shanley Farms’ director of sales and marketing.
Shanley and Warren have already seen finger limes captivate people’s imaginations—Warren educated Wolfgang Puck on how to use finger limes during the three years she and Shanley frequented the Santa Monica farmers’ market—but the father-daughter duo believes 2017 will be the game-changing year. In fact, they’ve already signed on with Blue Apron (an ingredient and recipe subscription mail service) to feature finger limes on several months’ menus, “which is so huge for us because it’s putting us in front of thousands of people’s faces and explaining how to use finger limes,” says Warren. “I love talking about how versatile they are—it really changes up the texture of a dish. Something that is really rich can be lightened and brightened with the pops of citrus,” says Warren.
Finger limes are available for purchase at Whole Foods SLO, Giovanni’s Fish Market in Morro Bay or online at shanleyfarms.com, which also provides plenty of recipe inspiration: Coconut Cucumber and Finger Lime Popsicles, Seared Scallops with Tarragon Finger Lime Butter or finger-lime-garnished fish tacos, freshly shucked oysters or cabbage coleslaw. Better yet, sit back and enjoy a refreshing cocktail featuring finger limes from Artisan (artisanpasorobles.com) in Paso Robles or Sidecar (sidecarcocktail.company). Cheers!
“The flavor of finger limes is very similar to kaffir limes— which are very hard to get on the Central Coast—so this ingredient pairs nicely with the green curry base and creamy coconut in this cocktail. I created a play off of the Piña Colada: The ‘Not-A-Colada’ features a local gin from Krobar Distillery, Peruvian pisco, housemade crème de coconut, traditional lime juice to add acid and make everything pop, plus a bar spoon of the crunchy finger lime pearls, which explode in your mouth. It pairs beautifully with our fish tacos.” — Michael Hughes, bartender at Artisan
To taste this inventive cocktail for yourself, stop by the bar at Artisan this fall and ask for the Not-A-Colada.