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Byron Shire
July 15, 2024

Playing with fire

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Rebecca Barnes at the Farmers market

Their excitement is infectious. Young schoolboys in uniform cluster around Rebecca Barnes’ stall as she passes the finger limes around: they bite in, squealing with pleasure.

It’s nearly the end of finger lime season, Bec tells me, and they continue to run out the door. The steady passage of customers reveals that many are there for this beautiful rainforest luxury, ‘citrus australasico’, or caviar limes as they are often called owing to the burst of caviar-like pulp inside the finger-sized fruit. Known as vesicles, or pearls, they’re used both as a garnish or tangy explosion of flavour, a gourmet bushfood whose commercial use began in the 1990’s and whose popularity continues unabated.

One woman tells us she sprinkles the ‘caviar’ over dragonfruit – ‘it’s heaven on earth!’ she says. ‘I eat them with everything, and now my son is addicted.’ Another confides that she puts them in gin and tonics. ‘I’m just pleased,’ Bec says,’ that people actually know what they are’ – but in fact she’s noticed that ‘absolutely without question’ people are generally more educated about bushfoods than they were when she started out.

That was well over 25 years ago now, beginning from the discovery of raspberries growing in the bush at Woodburn at a friend’s property. ‘I didn’t know we had native raspberries,’ she says, ‘nor why we couldn’t buy them in Australia. That kick-started it all.’

The ‘all’ is her successful business, turning over plants like blue lillypilly, bolwarra (a native guava), ginger, banksia, but also bush spices – peppermint gum and aniseed myrtle and wattleseed, amongst many others; herbal teas and chais infused with the spices, dried fruits like desert quandong and native currant; flavoured vinegars and marmalades. She says her all-time best-seller is lemon myrtle.
‘Everyone loves it!’

Playing With Fire is at New Brighton Farmers Market every Tuesday, 8am to 11am and Mullumbimby Farmers Market every Friday, 7am to 11am.

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