Daylilies: Out of the Vase, Into the Frying Pan

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Holly A. Heyser


While I always knew daylilies were edible, I had no idea they were that good! I gathered some on our trip to New England last week and, after sampling the flowers, flower buds, young stalks, and root tubers, I've come to the conclusion that they're so tasty I may grow them as a food crop.

Let me start by saying I am talking about the common daylily, hemerocallis fulva, as well as its various hemerocallis friends and relatives; there are thousands. What I am most definitely not talking about are bona fide lilies, like the Easter lily, which, if you are unfortunate enough to eat, you had better hope that the Resurrection is real ...

I ate a white one, and Great Weeping Jesus on the Cross, it TASTED like jicama! Only better.

I'd read long ago about the edibility of the common lily of my youth, which we incorrectly called tiger lilies because of their orange stripes. But this would have been in the 1980s, when edible flowers reached their trendy zenith. Nasturtium flowers, anyone? Meh. My young self wrote off lilies as part of that prancy fad.

Until last weekend. Holly and I visited my mother and sister on Cape Ann, in Massachusetts, and the main goal (other than seeing my family, of course) was to reconnect with all the Eastern plants and fishes I am writing about in my book, many of which I had not seen in the years since I, as Horace Greeley had suggested, went West as a young man.

Almost as an afterthought, I put daylilies on my checklist. Much like Ulysses Everett McGill, I reckoned I'd better consider the lilies of the goddamned field. And right quick, too. My manuscript is coming due soon.

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Holly A. Heyser

So on our first day we went to the beach, looking for all sorts of oceany things. And we found them, too. But I'm not going to talk about seaside plants here. You'll have to read the book. I know, I know. Such a tease. Sue me. The next day we walked in the forest and found some foresty things. I will be talking a bit about that in an upcoming post. But not today.

What about the lilies? Well, any of you ever been to Cape Ann? Gloucester is covered in daylilies, and its ritzier neighbor Rockport has more daylilies than grass. Daylilies are the most common flower on the whole freaking island. So common my sister Lizz and my brother-in-law Mark have tons of them in their tiny yard. So I am sorry to tell you there will be no stirring tale of high adventure as we stalked the semi-wild daylily. Nope. We just pulled a few plants and picked the flowers and buds from some others that were in the yard.

The drama with daylilies is all in the eating.

I first separated the plants into flowers, buds, and tubers—unlike true lilies, daylilies don't have bulbs. They have little tubers instead that look like miniature fingerling potatoes. I then stripped the outer leaves from those plants that had not yet flowered, until I got to the white part.

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Holly A. Heyser

Most sources say to sauté the unopened flower buds with a little butter or oil and call it a day. Sounded like a plan, especially since I wanted to really taste the plant, not any supplemental seasonings. So in they went, just lily buds, butter, and salt.

Presented by

Hank Shaw runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. More

A former line cook, veteran political reporter, and fisherman, Hank Shaw is a freelance food writer who runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which chronicles Shaw's search for what he calls the Forgotten Feast: The seasonal foods--mostly wild--we once delighted in, but are now curiosities at best. Game, wild mushrooms, seafood, and wild plants all have a place in modern cooking, and Shaw spends his days exploring their possibilities on the plate.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in both 2009 and 2010 and by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. His work has appeared in magazines such as The Art of Eating, Field & Stream, and Gastronomica. He hunts, fishes, forages, and gardens in Northern California with his girlfriend--and photographer--Holly A. Heyser.

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