I used to buy delicious citrus fruit from Italy, now Brexit has put an end to it

A horticulturalist and private chef has revealed her regret that she can no longer buy one of her favourite citrus fruits from Italy because of Brexit restrictions.

Anne Wilson, a 75-year-old retired IT worker from Manchester, began ordering finger limes from Sicily in 2016 and regularly cooked with them for dinners she holds at her home for paying customers.

But in 2020, after Brexit restrictions kicked in, her supplier stopped exporting the limes, and Mrs Wilson says she has had to stop eating and serving the fruit, since other sources are prohibitively expensive.

“Finger limes are exceptional,” she told i. “I started sprinkling droplets everywhere, replacing lemon and orange juices for cooking and also preparing refreshing summer drinks and cocktails.

“Their salty after-taste makes them a great substitute for salt, too, which is bad for my high blood pressure. And the juice cleans the palate after heavy meals.”

Mrs Wilson used the finger limes to prepare delicate fish dishes (both cooked and raw, particularly langoustines and prawns) and experimental meat and pasta recipes for her extended family, particularly on weekends and holidays, and the diners renting her living room for special events.

She initially bought finger limes online from Australia and Spain, spending almost £400 for a 30-piece box, including shipping costs.

Then, seven years ago, she was introduced to farmer Giuseppe Rizzo, 45, during a trip to Messina in northeast Sicily, and started ordering from him.

Mr Rizzo charged a more affordable €150 (£130) for a box of 30 finger limes, weighing about a kilogram.

While finger limes are native to Australia, climate change and rising temperatures in recent years have led to them finding fertile ground on Mediterranean shores, such as Sicily, Spain and Morocco.

Mr Rizzo grows three different colour varieties (pink, green and orange) and the limes were particularly juicy with a distinctive flavour, according to Mrs Wilson.

She says she misses the limes but has now completely given up on buying them. “The ones you rarely find at the supermarket in Manchester are of poor quality and never really fresh,” she said.

Ms Wilson even tried buying two tiny finger lime bushes from Mr Rizzo’s plantation, but both plants died in the colder UK weather just days after landing.

Mr Rizzo, who exploits Sicily’s warmer climate to grow non-native exotic fruits, had been selling finger limes to a few UK clients via friends who had relatives in the UK, where many Sicilian farmers migrated to in the 1960s.

After Brexit, he was forced to end his small shipments due to new fruit import restrictions and border controls introduced following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

“My British clients before buying mine would order Australian and Spanish finger limes online through UK vendors for £200 for one kilo,” he told i. “I used to sell 25-30 boxes each year to 15 British clients. I made roughly €4,500 (£3,900) per year.”

Now, he has waved goodbye to this revenue stream, and his former customers have had to seek alternatives.

Finger limes are the most expensive type of citruses, dubbed “lime caviar” as the inner pulp resembles sturgeon eggs. They work well with seafood, and Messina’s varieties are considered among the most zesty.

“I used to mail these boxes privately – my UK clients had no problem receiving them. But now, post-Brexit rules have introduced restrictions and controls on European imports of fresh fruit and dairy products,” says Mr Rizzo.

“There now would be too much paperwork, and costs, to get the green-light from UK customs. It just isn’t worth it for me anymore.”