What started out 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 speciality fruits market. Tucked off Highway 41, Shanley Farms is perched up in the rolling hillsides with sweeping views of the coastline—including the iconic Morro Rock—surrounded by their 40-acre groves of finger limes, avocados, Goji berries, passion fruit, and coffee.
“I decided I wanted to plant avocados because in 1996 the fastest growing demographic was Hispanic—their culture and cuisine was being adopted into the greater culture at that point. Avocados can only grow in very specific climate conditions: frost-free, ample water, and open land,” explained Jim, who at the time lived in the Central Valley and vacationed every year in Cayucos. With this in mind, he purchased the dilapidated property (with an ocean view!) in 1998, and planted his first trees in 1999, with the 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 was already producing avocados, oranges, lemons, and kiwis. But this self-proclaimed “spreadsheet guy” ran into a slight problem—a true blessing in disguise that led him to his fascination and cultivation of finger limes. “Remember now, I have a bad problem with doing math. At the ranch I had an orange grove that I was paying to farm—and that doesn’t work well for me. So I tore it out, it was about 5 acres. I can’t compete with the guys that are doing commodity oranges and have thousands of acres, so I needed to find something different and special,” said Jim. While on the hunt for unique varieties of blood oranges, pomelos, or tangerines, he took a fortuitous research trip to UC Riverside’s Citrus Variety Collection. Walking through the rows of exhibits—before calling it a day—he stopped by one last booth. “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.” The professors were unsure if the fruit would be available commercially—but Jim knew he had to have it. After many discussions his perseverance paid off, they released the budwood from the germplasm repository as a offering to citrus nurseries. “I placed the first order, got the first delivery, and was the first person to plant them,” said Jim.
Finger limes (Citrus australasica) hail from Australia—and despite their common name, they are not genetically related to limes. They grow on extremely thorny, shrub-like trees that bloom and set new crops every 2-3 weeks starting in early spring into late fall. On the outside, the rind is a deep emerald green bordering on jet black; the inside features flesh-like pearls (akin to caviar) that range from a pale green, to a blush-hued pink, to a bold crimson color. Once sliced crosswise, the pearls can be squeezed out easily, yielding a mellow, citrus-driven acidity with a crunchy, juicy, textural experience.
Meanwhile, his daughter Megan Warren started studying Agribusiness at Cal Poly and ultimately finished her degree in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell University. “I was in college when my Dad started the farm, but we never knew this was going to be a family business, we never talked about it. When the finger limes started producing I was living in Kansas City, working at Driscoll’s [a global berry distributor] for two years. 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 2 weeks I had quit my job at Driscoll’s, moved back to California, and hit the ground running,” said Megan, now the Director of Sales and Marketing. For 3 years they frequented the farm-to-fork epicenter for LA chefs: the Santa Monica farmers’ market and it was here that Megan educated the Wolfgang Puck on how to use finger limes (!).
The father-daughter duo both believe 2017 is going to the be the game-changing year for the finger lime. “Blue Apron [an ingredient-and-recipe subscription mail service] will be featuring our product on their menus for July, August, September, and October this year 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. 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,” said Megan. This very well could be the big break for this bizarre, non-intuitive fruit!
Make sure to add a basket of finger limes or jar of pearls to your next grocery shopping list! The applications are endless—just check Shanley Farms’ website for recipe inspiration: Coconut Cucumber and Finger Lime Popsicles, Seared Scallops with Tarragon Finger Lime Butter, or simply garnish fish tacos, freshly shucked oysters, or cabbage coleslaw. Or better yet, sit back and enjoy a refreshing cocktail featuring finger limes from Artisan (Paso Robles) or Sidecar (San Luis Obispo). Cheers! Finger limes are available for purchase at Whole Foods SLO, Giovanni’s Fish Market in Morro Bay, or online at shanleyfarms.com.
“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. I wanted to create something that was summery and fun that would be food-friendly. It pairs beautifully with our fish tacos.”
—Michael Hughes, Bartender at Artisan
843 12th Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446
BIXBY, BLOODY BIXBY
“I love finger limes because they have a different flavor than your traditional lime—it’s a little bit sweeter, and the acid is a little bit softer. You get to chew on the pearls and they pop with an explosion of flavor. For presentation I’ve exploded a finger lime on top of the blood orange slice because it’s a whole experience to see it as a garnish on the cocktail itself. As you are sipping on your drink, you will get a couple of pearls. Pop! Pop! Pop! It’s an explosive fun new experience that is a total surprise. That’s what’s so cool and special about finger limes: it’s a shock-and-awe factor, which allows us to create a multi-phase, multi-experience cocktail.”
—Josh Christensen, Co-Owner of Sidecar Cocktail Co.
1127 Broad Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
BIXBY, BLOODY BIXBY
Recipe provided by
Yields 1 cocktail.
1 finger lime
1 ¾ ounces Bixby Gin
½ ounces Cynar
½ ounces blood orange juice
¼ ounces lemon juice
¼ ounces simple syrup
1 slice blood orange
Cut the finger lime in half crosswise, muddle one half into a lowball glass. Combine all liquid ingredients in a shaker, shake, and strain over ice. Garnish with a slice of blood orange and the remaining finger lime half—make sure you squeeze it so the pearls ooze out over the blood orange slice!
“Bixby Gin is a Big Sur-inspired gin. Some of the botanicals are foraged there and some I grow myself. I wanted to make a gin representative of the Central Coast—if you look closely at the bottle, you can see Bixby Bridge in the artwork. You get a complex palate experience with the terrior of the ocean facing hillsides with savory chaparral and floral notes like what you might experience in the springtime here. I wanted to connect with people by bringing them on a journey here to the Central Coast. I believe our senses can transcend us to somewhere else.”
— Trevor Peterson, Owner of Lloyd Distillery
Bixby Gin is available at: Sandy’s Liquor (SLO), DePalo & Sons (Shell Beach), and California Fresh Market (SLO & Pismo). Bars using Bixby Gin: Sidecar, Granada, Luna Red, Novo, Thomas Hill Organics, Giuseppe’s, Milestone Tavern, La Cosecha, Villa Creek, The Hatch, Vine.
Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo & Wine Country
Fall 2017 · Issue 19