Aug 4, 2013

Lily Children

My days open and close like the lilies. Each day another bloom, a new color, a fresh try. The flowers are named daylilies because they only bloom for one day, reminding us, I suppose, to live in the moment. But right now the lilies are in full force, showing their faces for us in every shade of orange, red and yellow. They demand my attention, they holler at me in five-petalled flower voices. The colors reflect the bright pulse of sunlight, that bee-buzzing, cricket-singing thrum of early August.

My dad hybridizes daylilies at our home in Maine. Every year he must plow new land to plant more of his daylily offspring, and we wait for even another year to see what new colors, heights, and ruffles emerge. During a recent visit to see my folks up in Maine, I decided I wanted to try to experience dad's lilies in a new way—that is, to eat them.

Mom struggled with this idea, telling me that she felt it was like eating his children. (Aren't I one of his children? I wondered.) Nevertheless I persevered, and after asking which beds were safe to pick from, since I didn't want to rob my father of any new discoveries, I grabbed a basket and began plucking the buds. Though mom didn't help me with the lily bud harvest (too stressful!) she did assist me in pickling them.

I feel a great urgency this time of year to pickle and preserve, knowing that the intensity of color and flavor will soon be gone. I also like how things look in canning jars, all colorful and contained and bejeweled with herbs and spices.

The latin name for daylily species is Hemerocallis, and while they do belong to the Liliaceae family, they shouldn't be confused with the genus Lilium to which many poisonous species belong. But just so long as you know that the tiger lilies (Asian lilies like Lilium lancifolium) are spotted and rather spiky, you should be ok. But use a field guide if you're unsure.

Daylily buds are amazing raw in salads (crunchy and a little spicy!), or pickled like green beans or zucchini. I followed an old recipe for pickled green beans with garlic, but one for zucchini will work too. Pickled the daylily buds gain a delicious flavor and exotic character that will add spark to things such as omelettes, cold noodle salads (with lemongrass and cilantro!) or even a dirty martini. I also think they'd make a fun garnish to a cheese and charcuterie plate. Daylilies are traditionally used in a lot of Asian cuisine, such as in Taiwanese soups and noodle dishes. Apparently the flower is known as "forget-stress flower," which is why I think we should all eat more of them, children or not. But with any luck dad's lily family will continue expanding, giving me more opportunity to pick the buds and not stress out my mother.

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