The Buddha's hand citron is a variation - probably a mutation. The entire fruit is split into gnarled and twisted tentacles, making it look like a cartoon character. The fruit is entirely pith and peel - there is no pulp within, no juice and usually no seeds at all. It's propagated by cuttings and grafts.
Ordinary citron pith is usually diced and candied, and you can do this with the Buddha's hand, too. Some books suggest chopping the whole thing up into little slivers and scattering them on a salad or as a garnish. You can also infuse vodka with them - sounds like an interesting idea!
But the Buddha's hand is prized whole, for its shape. In Asia, where it was probably discovered, fruits with closed "fingers" are thought to resemble the closed hand of prayer. Because of this, and because of their fragrance, the fruits are left as tribute in temples. They are also given as gifts, to perfume rooms, linens, and clothing.
In Chinese fabric and pottery designs, the Buddha's hand is used as one of a grouping of three fruits (with pomegranates and peaches) known as the "Three Plenties" to symbolize good. The Pomegranate with its many seeds symbolizes progeny; the peach longevity, and the citron the blessings that bring happiness - whether spiritual blessings or material blessings like cash.
At a recent Asian art and antique exhibit, I found these Chinese ceramic replicas of the Buddha's hand citron. Known as altar fruit, these useful objects served as a temple offering when the fruits were out of season. The dealer said that these examples dated from around 1900 - 1930.
I thought they were lovely, but at $300.00 each, a little rich for my pocketbook.
Fortunately, the real thing is available at our local farmers' markets, for around $5. The one I brought home perfumed the entire kitchen for a week.
I think next time I'll try that vodka idea.