stalking the backyard daylily

IMG_7707A proud clump of orange daylilies or tiger lillies (H. fulva) graces one corner of my garden, blocking out a poppy and a lavender bush and encroaching on my daffodils.  Disdainful, I stopped in my murderous tracks a few years ago when I read one can eat most parts of the plant in a blog post by wildcrafter Hank Shaw.

I’ve since read more about them, including the history with some dubious tasting notes, and a chapter in Euell Gibbons’ classic, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, which seems to be a book that lights up the eyes of people who wish they were wholly foraging for food (while shopping at Whole Foods).

Being one of those people, mostly, I knew I had to take my dreams of a feral future and make them a reality, so I stalked the daylilies in my backyard.

What, you say you don’t know what a daylily is?  This is a daylily:

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Not a daylily (with an added bonus of an artichoke to symbolize the choking you will do when you eat a poisonous cultivar of true lily, below):

IMG_7714You can immediately tell them apart because the daylily grows in a big clump and has long, skinny leaves growing from the clump, but the true lily has many short opposing leaves growing up each stalk that culminates in a flower. Another things that differentiates them is that daylilies frequently repatriate to the wild, and they often resist the elements in parks, old lots, and meadows.  More on identification here.

The buds, flowers, stalks, and root bulbs of the daylily are all edible, but being a lazy hunter-gatherer, I went for the easy stuff: the buds.  Pick them when they are just about open, and don’t delay, since the ‘day’ part of daylily is not false advertising.  They ripen, bloom, and are gone in 24 hours.  You can see one bud just ready to be plucked to the left of the daylily in the image above the poison-choke-lilies.

IMG_7680Ever have Chinese hot and sour soup?  The “golden needles” or lily buds are none other than the dried buds of the daylily.  I dried a bunch and plan to use them in soups.  Apparently, they let off a slightly gelatinous ooze when you cook them, so they thicken up nicely.

The rest of the buds I plucked to eat in the manner I love vegetables the most: quickly dry-fried and salted.  You may have enjoyed padron or shishito peppers prepared this way, or perhaps Sichuan green beans.  Daylily buds rank right up there with the pleasure, and their unusual origin and utterly free cost to you will make you the star of all the foragers in your neighborhood.  OK, maybe not my neighborhood, since there are real foragers who live here, but if you live in a neighborhood without any, let me know and I’ll move there, since I could use a little stardom.

Anyway, the recipe in the first photo for dryfried daylily buds couldn’t be easier.  You’ll love the taste (but be careful, as apparently some folks are allergic or react poorly to the very mild and delicious greenbeany taste, likening it to armpit sweat).  Try just a couple at first to see if you are one of those unfortunate souls.

Heat up a heavy pan, cast iron if you have it, on high until it smokes.  Toss your daylily buds in a tiny bit of oil just before you toss them into the hot pan.  Smoke will ensue, so take the pan outside, flipping the buds with a spoon for just a few minutes until they are charred in spots and softened.  Salt with a coarse-grained finishing salt and serve immediately.

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queen of hungary water

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I love the idea of Queen of Hungary water, often credited as the world’s first alcohol-based perfume.  The original idea is lovely: a medieval distilled rosemary flower infusion made in the spring when the violet-colored little blossoms burst open and can be preserved in a strong spirit.  And that time, my friends, is now.

Jennifer Heise, a SCA educator and herbalist, provides a helpful history of Queen of Hungary water, including some court intrigue and speculation about which queen of Hungary may have been the first to use it, plus some good ol’ medieval advice about taking the water to heal your withered limbs.  I based my recipe off Heise’s research and experimentation with liquids and herbs, deciding that I would try only the flowers and flower buds of rosemary, since i have them.  I also added a few buds of my lemon-scented Greek bay flowers that are forming now, thinking “if it grows together, it goes together.”  It smells quite nice already, just 16 hours or so after I did my plucking.

498px-Titian_Venus_Mirror_(furs)And why did I make this?  Well, it’s the name, really.  Queen of Hungary.  There she is.  A queen swathed in auburn fur — fur collar and cuffs and a giant fur hat with a spring of rosemary for a flourish.  It’s probably too warm in Hungary for all that, but in my mind she’s the Sacher-Masoch tyrant in Titian red.  Black kidskin gloves and a little riding crop. Hot temper. Her lips are reddened by paprika and she pinches her cheeks to bring out the glow when she’s not out taming wild Magyar horses or shouting orders to the cavalry. Queen of Hungary, a hungry queen.  Not hungry in the way I’m hungry, which is for some lunch.  But hungry in a mad way, hungry for the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Sigh. I’ve written about her before.  I’ve turned her into a winter squash recipe, even, Squash Whip Queen of Hungary, and wrote about her for the Eugene Weekly.  I love that combination of rosemary, bourbon, and sweet dark orange squash.  I still see her in all those colors.

But now it’s spring, and now I’m thinking I might play up the green of it all. Heise notes one can use the Queen as a period-appropriate perfumes for SCA events and the like, but I wonder if the perfume will really linger.  I’ll likely use the concoction cut with a little water as a skin toner.  Or if things get much worse, I’ll just drink it with a little bubbly and lemon as a Hungarian 75.

UPDATE 4/29:  The queen has turned warm brown and sweet.  It wasn’t at all what I expected!  The flavors are like a soft brown bread, wholly unlike rosemary at all, and the tincture is the color of vanilla extract (so it would stain the skin if used as perfume.  Hm.  Am thinking I should have followed the advice of the recipe more closely to use dried herbs and not flowers.  More experimentation to come with the tincture!

Queen of Hungary Water

  • As many rosemary flowers and flowerbuds as you can pick, separated from the green resinous leaves
  • 100-proof vodka
  • optional, one or a few of the following: a swath of orange or lemon peel, a few bay buds, lemon balm

Pick flowers and buds, being careful to pick on a dry day in the morning for maximum scent.  Spread out on a tray to remove browned bits and let bugs reveal themselves.  Do not rinse, just shake a little and clear out detritus.  Add flowers and buds and optional add-ons to a jar, packing lightly, then top with vodka.  You want to aim for half flowers, half vodka, but it’s not a precise measurement.

I’ll revise the recipe once I know how mine turns out.

where the bee sucks, there suck i

Happy Mother’s Day to my mama, who gave me enough literal and figurative space to stretch out.  I wouldn’t be a gardener or a cook if it weren’t for you.

One of my happiest childhood memories was watching the cycle of life on our property.  For me, the new year started with lilacs. I would pluck off the little blossoms and suck in the lilac pollen from the little tube for a hit of pure, uncut lilac blow.  Probably should have tipped someone off that I wasn’t that interested in reproducing.  But still.  It’s hard for me to even imagine the true glory of that towering lilac hedge that ran a length of the property line when I look at my fledgling ‘My Favorite’ lilac  bushes now.  These hybrids were developed by Hulda Klager, she of lilac development fame, and the flowers do kind of look like “purple popcorn,” as the article suggests.  I’ve been waiting for three years for them to bloom for the first time.  Behold their purple popcorn power!

everything’s coming up rose geraniums!

A by-product of any rhubarb cooked over the stove is the shocking pink syrup I wrote about last year. Here’s my new batch, making friends with two kinds of pickled plums and some pickled ginger in my refrigerator.  Hullo there!

The problem is that most of the rhubarb that flourishes here in the Willamette Valley is the green-stalked Victoria rhubarb (below).  When mixed with June strawberries, there’s no problem with color, but bright green rhubarb pie or crumble seems a little, well, less festive.

So if you can, grab up or pick hefty red rhubarb stalks when you see them.  I bought mine at Groundworks Organics at the farmer’s market last week, and made some syrup with vanilla sugar we made at our OSU Extension Master Food Preservers ‘Gifts in a Jar’ class last winter.  Just before pouring the sweet and sour concoction into a jar to cool, I swished a few rose geranium leaves in the syrup for an unusual flavor.

My problem is that I can’t stop eating my rose geranium-vanilla rhubarb syrup on ice cream.  I want to use it for crisp gin cocktails with a garnish of rose geranium flower.  Or maybe to spice up a fresh strawberry fruit salad.  Or maybe to drizzle over some sour cherry claufoutis.  Will it last, though?

Tune in next week, same bat time, same bat channel.

Now’s the bat time, by the way, to start shopping for scented geraniums.  I fell in love with the classic variety ‘Attar of Rose’ last year, but all my geraniums — peppermint, lemon balm, cinnamon, rose — died in the freeze.  The geranium lady at the market told me she lost most of hers, as well.  Even ones that were 10 years old.  A shame.

Rose geraniums make a wonderful simple syrup on their own, without rhubarb.  I seem to recall I made a simple syrup last year with local Pinot Gris and rose geranium.  If you can bring out complementary flavors in your chosen wine with the rose, all the better.  Other ideas?  You might try submerging a few leaves in a quart of sugar to make rose-scented sugar for baking, or even make a pound cake with the leaves imprinted on the top of the cake.

We’re pretty sure that my friend’s Greek grandma floated whole leaves on top of her summer jelly. I wonder if you could substitute rose geranium for roses in other kinds of jams, as well.  I guess I’ll have the entire summer to find out!