Pickled limes have been around for a long time.
James Lind, a Scottish surgeon, documented the use of citrus fruit to treat scurvy in 1753. After several decades the British navy began requiring sailors to have a daily ration of citrus to prevent the disease. Limes were more readily available than lemons, so they became the citrus of choice on ships. Hence, the nickname 'Limey' for British sailors. Wiki rumor has it that once it was found that lemons were a better treatment for scurvy, that fact was a closely guarded military secret. A navy that used lemons was stronger than the British navy that used West Indian limes. [No documentation of that rumor, but it's a great story.]
Limes were pickled to preserve them for long sea voyages. But they were made and used at home, too. Louisa May Alcott's book, Little Women refers to Amy's love of pickled limes that she purchased from the store.
Linda Zeidrich, who wrote my favorite pickling book The Joy of Pickling said this:
“There they were sold from glass jars on top of candy-store counters, and some families even bought them by the barrel. Because the import tariff for pickled limes was quite low – importers fought to keep them classed as neither fresh fruit nor pickle – children could buy them cheaply, often for a penny apiece. Kids chewed, sucked, and traded pickled limes at school (and not just a recess) for decades, making the limes the perennial bane of New England schoolteachers. Doctors tended to disapprove of the limes, too; in 1869 a Boston physician wrote that pickled limes were among the “unnatural and abominable” substances consumed by children with nutritional deficiencies.” Parents, however, seemed generally content for children to indulge themselves in the pickled-lime habit.Here's another site that talks about the history of pickled limes: Food Timeline includes this recipe for pickled lemons from 1747:
"To pickel LEMONS.
Take twelve Lemons, scape the with a Piece of broken Glass, then cut them cross in two, four Parts down right, but not quite through, but that they will hang together; then up in as much Salt as they will hold, and rub then well, and strew them over with Salt. Let them lay in an earthen Dish for three days, and turn them every Day; then slit an Ounce of Ginger very think and salted for three Days, twelve Cloves of Garlick parboiled, and satled three Day, a small Handful of Mustard-seeds bruised, and searched through a hair-sieve, some red India Pepper, one to every Lemon; take your Lemons out of the salt, and squeeze them very gently, and put them into a Jar, with the Spice and Ingredients, and cover them with the best White Wine Vinegar. Stop them up very close, and in a Month's time they will fit to eat."
---The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse, facsimile 1747 edition [Prospect Books:Devon] 1995 (p. 133)
Sounds kind of good. I may have to try this with lemons and with limes.