Slice of Life: Lime time

TOM HASHAGEN

TOM HASHAGEN

The month of May has two pretty significant days for me in regards to Shelter Island. It just so happens that this column falls just about smack dab in the middle of both of them.

On May 5, 1984, Lisa and I, who had been married by Judge Edward “Pete” Hannabury on the previous December 25, reaffirmed our vows in a public ceremony at the Shelter Island Country Club.

Four years and 51 weeks earlier than that, on May 12, 1979, I drove off the North Ferry for the first time in my life, heading to the Shelter Island Yacht Club to meet my new boss, James Eklund, the manager.

For the chronologically challenged, that means that this past Monday is our 30th wedding anniversary, and next Monday is the 35th anniversary of my arrival at this beautiful place.

I never associated May 5 with anything other than our anniversary, until somewhere along the line Cinco de Mayo came into the picture. Cinco de Mayo, according to wikianswers.com, “is a regional holiday in Mexico, primarily celebrated in Puebla.

The holiday commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely defeat of French forces at the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 under the leadership of Mexican General Zaragoza Seguin. The outnumbered Mexicans defeated a much better equipped French Army that had known no defeat in over 50 years.”

Now, while this is not a national holiday in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo can be celebrated, or not, by anyone wishing to commemorate the Battle of Puebla. Almost any restaurant in the U.S. that serves Mexican food has found a convenient way to drum up business and sell margaritas.

The result of all this is that for the past several years, we have been happy to use Cinco de Mayo as a way of celebrating our anniversary, including of course, the quintessential Cinco de Mayo drink, margaritas. With lime.

If you’ve purchased limes recently you probably know where I’m going with this.

It’s an outrage.

As a food professional I’m used to the increase in prices of certain commodities at certain times of the year. Everyone knows the price of beef (now almost a luxury item any time of the year) usually escalates during December, right before Christmas.

The price of a dozen roses doubles or triples around February 10, the price of lamb legs skyrockets just before Easter, and the cost of a bouquet of flowers goes through the roof just before Mother’s Day. But limes?

As one news agency put it, “a perfect storm” of circumstances has led to limes becoming so expensive that airlines (cheapskates anyway) have stopped serving them with cocktails on flights, restaurants have had to adjust their prices to any dish that contains limes, and finally for us, the poor consumers at the end of the line, the price of limes is currently anywhere from $0.70 to $1.50 each! So on average, $1 for a pathetic, small, hard and juiceless lime.

The combination of a “canker” that has decimated the lime crop in Mexico, where the we get 99 percent of our limes, combined with a terrible winter that has knocked the blossoms off lime trees, has made limes such a precious commodity that Mexican drug cartels are now in the lime business. In some cases, the drug/lime barons control distribution and in others extort money from growers and shippers, who pass on the “cost of doing business” to guess who?

Now, it’s just not the expense of margaritas that has me “juiced” about this insanity. I love what limes do to raw scallops when mixed with chiles and cilantro for a delectable ceviche. The grated zest, or outer peel, plus the juice from a lime mixed with butter is incredible when used to lovingly saute lump crabmeat. How can you have a decent guacamole (here we go with the Cinco de Mayo thing again) without a decent blast of fresh lime juice over nice ripe avocados?

Ever made a beurre blanc with lime and fresh tarragon? Amazing on grilled salmon. Did I mention a simple, tangy vinaigrette made with lime juice, extra-virgin olive oil, shallots, Dijon mustard, sea salt and black pepper? I could go on and on.

Forget about that bottled stuff masquerading as real lime juice, there’s just no substitute. Lemons don’t cut it either. Just not the same. A lime is a lime is a lime.

Woe unto us, we are undone! Soon there will be people with false noses and eyelashes selling black market limes on the side of the road. Limes will be used as currency in southern border states.

Bartenders will be forced to invent new drinks that use other citrus fruits that will pale in comparison to the beloved lime.

Lemon growers will try dyeing their fruit green so as to get triple the price for their crop. Lemon-lime sodas will be just … I can’t bear it.

All we can hope for is that the summer crop of limes is bountiful enough to hopefully drive prices back to reasonable levels. And I guess, though I wonder if I can even do this myself, we could just not buy limes until sanity returns to the fruit stand.

Oh, the cruelty of it all.

But you know what? Thirty years of marriage and 35 years of Shelter Island living is worth celebrating at any cost.