Daylily Days & the Osage River

As a kid I looked forward to the time the daylilies blooming in summer. One reason was school was already a distant memory, which meant I could mow yards for neighbors to earn spending money, and work in the hayfields for a local farm family, raking hay on the prairie with an ancient John Deere tractor.
Daylily time also signaled stretching a trotline across the Osage River, and checking it early morning before work, and late evening, after. An old fellow, Frank Williams, lived down the block from my parents' home and he was always glad for a fishing buddy. He and I spent countless hours every summer, seining creeks for bait with a seine, then baiting our trotline hooks to catch fish overnight.

Daylily season also meant food. The old fashioned, orange daylilies (called, "ditch lilies" in some places) furnished buds which my mother dipped in batter and quickly fried. The fresh flowers, too, battered and fried, were nearly as tasty, plus, the young daylily buds, simply boiled or steamed, were worthwhile, as well. And if the county road grader came by cleaning ditches and dug up clumps of daylilies, the lily's tubers were washed clean and steamed or boiled. The flavor? Imagine buttered, fresh roasting ears and that's pretty close. (Note: the first flower is the old fashioned, common orange daylily, or ditch lily, which is tasty; the photos that follow are of the hybrids or tetraploids, which I just raise for show and seldom eat).

The new tetraploid hybrid daylilies aren't as quite useful for food, although some may disagree. Over the years I've collected a lot of red, pink, yellow and even a pure white one, all hybrids and only use these for garnishes. According to the  Univ. of AR Extension Service: "Daylilies typically have 22 chromosomes in the nucleus; cultivars developed with this basic set of chromosomes are referred to as diploids. Tetraploid daylilies have 44 chromosomes, twice the normal somatic number for the species. A few daylilies, most notably the orange daylily seen across the state in roadside ditches, are sterile triploids with 33 chromosomes."

But with the breeding for color, the makeup of the plants has changed. You can still eat the tetraploids, put the flowers in salads, use for garnishing a plate, fill with crab salad and the like, they're not poison But according to author, Steven Foster, you may possibly pay for the meal with a bit of stomach upset. Not a pleasant thought, so when I eat daylilies, I mostly stick with the the old-fashioned ditch lilies.

That's what daylily season is for me, a time of fried daylily buds, petals in salads, stir-fry with daylily (the wilted flowers and buds), and of trotlines, balmy evenings bringing home fish and staying up past midnight getting the fish dressed for my mom to cook the next day. Eat a daylily, and happy gardening!


Randy and Jamie said...

The bottom one is the one we have, is it ditch lily? I've heard them called Kwanzo? I had no idea you could eat them. How neat!

That's a big catfish.-- Randy

Woody said...

Friday night we had some friends over for dinner. I had pick some buds and some flowers, that had just started to open, for our salad. The looks on their faces when they noticed just what they were eating was priceless. "I didn't know you could eat them...we have two ditches full of dinner!" was they reply.


Jim Long said...

Randy, the orange one at the top, and the orange double at the bottom are the daylilies I eat. The others I just use for color garnish on a plate.

Jim Long said...

Hi Randy & Jamie,
Ok, I have to tell the truth...that's not a pic of me (wish I looked that good at that age). But I did catch big catfish like that. If I find my old photos box, I'll dig out, and replace that photo, with one of myself. :-)

Chef Chong said...

Chinese way of cooking the daylily buds is sauteeing them with garlic and oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. It tastes so good with steamed jasmine rice.

compost in my shoe said...

I have the same memory of daylily blooming up and down the dirt road that led to our northern Ohio dairy farm. And I remember we were out of school and I was wandering the fields falling in love with most everything I came in contact with. Those were magical days.

Jim Long said...

It's kind of amazing how universal and widespread those old fashioned orange daylilies are and how many great memories people have of them. I think laying several layers of the open daylilies on the bottom of a baking dish, some butter, a couple of pieces of orange roughy that've been dipped in bread crumbs, a couple of lemon slices, and baked, might just be my supper tonight.