Somewhere in the netherlands of Chainat Province, it’s early November, the ragged end of the rainy season and unseasonably cold. In heavy cloth pants and a woolen jacket buttoned up to the neck, Swai Rodtavorn is primed for the 22-degree chill. She stomps in flip-flops through an overgrown tangle of 100 trees, both coconut palms and kaffir lime, the latter better known here as makruut. “This is the worst season for makruut,” she huffs. Actually, there are plenty of the shiny double-winged green leaves that she can sell in nearby fresh markets for use in soups, curries and stir-fried food.
But she’s talking about the fruit. She makes a beeline for a laden tree. Since this mature tree is five years old, the lowest branches are higher than our heads. She needs long-handled clippers to cut one of the thorny branches. Citrus hystrix is one homely fruit. The size of a handball, it has the lumpy wrinkled surface of a shrunken green brain. No Thai will confess to eating it. It’s too bitter and “strong” smelling.