Foodies and chefs can’t get enough of finger limes. The thorny native citrus is on gourmet menus around the world and Pemberton growers Jill and Rob Baker are working hard to keep up.

“It’s a niche market but demand is through the roof, ” daughter Jacquie Baker said. She looks after marketing for the couple’s Pemberton Finger Limes business, which has taken on board four growers, who will plant 5000 trees over the next 18 months to bring production up to 50 tonnes by 2025. Included in the group are truffle, avocado and grape farmer Justin Omodei, a financial advisor, a couple with export experience and an agronomist. All have land in Pemberton.

“They were selected because of their specific skill sets, ” Ms Baker said. “Conservatively, we’re looking at 4kg of A-grade fruit off a tree but we could get 10kg/tree, so we’re working on 20-50 tonnes in 10 years. A lot of that would be exported. I’ve just had an enquiry for seven tonnes from a woman in China with 200 restaurants — and we just can’t manage it.”

The Bakers retired to Pemberton and have never been busier, growing finger limes since 2006. The fruit is unique, with a caviar-like pulp that pops in the mouth with a citrus burst that’s a natural with seafood and in sauces and jams. Picking is over 6-8 weeks from the end of March and this season’s 400kg crop has been allocated already.

“Demand was initially from chefs but even then a lot didn’t know about them, ” Ms Baker said. “The first season we supplied about 10 restaurants, then the calls started coming in and a lot of that was because of our digital presence. I’m a web designer, so getting the business online was a priority.

“We exported to Paris and Singapore last year — and will do so again this year — but we’ve made a strategic decision to supply locals first, then Perth, Sydney and the rest. Our contact in Paris used to do just truffles and caviar; now he’s added finger limes. We sent 9kg and he wanted more and more.”

Ms Baker said conditions in Pemberton were ideal for the crop, from the natural pH of the soil to the rainfall and shelter of the karri trees, which acted as windbreaks.

“They scratch easily, so you have to be very careful how you prune, ” Ms Baker said. “My parents have 200 bushes and they hand-pick all of them. They actually look after every single finger lime personally.”

© The West Australian

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