Turmeric Flowers

Turmeric flower

It was only recently that I learnt that turmeric flowers are edible. Over the past few years, my interest in locally-available edible flowers has grown to a large extent. And to think that turmeric bloomed wild in our back garden and they were never consumed…

In my parents’ house, we had a bounteous crop of turmeric every year. It was another spice that we couldn’t do without. In a curry, after the Holy Trinity of onions, ginger, and garlic, the next to be added was, without a doubt, turmeric. Either fresh or in dried and powdered form. The rhizomes were uprooted after the leaves died down in winter. These were then cleared of dark garden soil with short and vigorous jerks. Then the yellow rhizomes were washed and boiled. Then they were then sliced and placed in large bamboo mats in the backyard till they turned to a crisp and brittle stage. It was then time to be pounded and stored in large glass jars.

Looking back I find memories of our backyard most fascinating. It centred on food and garden produce. The clothes line was on the boundary keeping the centre free of any obstruction from the sun. Herbs and flowers like gladioli and amaryllis bloomed in red unison during the season. On one side, my mother’s climbing tomatoes would be clambering all over the bamboo stakes. Her green thumb was evident in every plant that the eye could see.According to the season, the bamboo mats would hold different fruits and vegetables. In summer it was always mangoes that were cut and seasoned with salt and turmeric. Bamboo shoots and mushrooms that are so abundant in our region were also dried. Apart from the fruits and vegetables of the season, there was rice grain basking in the sun getting ready to be pounded, husked and prepared for the rice tin.

Coming back to the leaves, they were occasionally used to roast small fish on hot coals. Or for wrapping home-grown produce like chillies, leafy greens, herbs, or cherry tomatoes. These were gifted to neighbours or relatives who happened to drop by. And leaf-wrapped meant a longer shelf life.But somehow the pungency of the leaves was a bit too much for me then. It was years later that I would appreciate it in tiny bits chopped with lemon leaves and added to meat curry. The idea came from ingredients used in the south-east Asian curry called ‘rendang’. And from the numerous list of ingredients, I chose the easiest-to-source ones. With both growing in my backyard, I discovered that the mix of these leaves chopped up makes any curry very fragrant.As for the flowers, they bloomed in July and lasted till September. And faded away. They were never consumed as we didn’t know that they were edible.But that changed when I saw the inflorescence in one of our local markets. When I asked the vendor for a recipe, she mentioned fish curry. Unlike most blooms that wilt easily when cooked, turmeric flowers or bracts need a little time. And it has a much milder hint of the spice. Subtle, but lovely. The flowers contain curcumin, the same compound that is found in the rhizome with its beneficial properties.

Because turmeric flowers are so beautiful, songs have been dedicated to them. A Hawaiian tune called ‘Pua Olena’ used for hula dances and ukulele performances tells of a turmeric flower ’kissed by misty summer rain’. This reminded me of my mother telling us how magical the flowers growing in our back garden looked on a moonlit night. Till then, I hadn’t associated a backyard staple as remotely magical.This year due to the pandemic, (and health reasons) I have given the markets a miss. But if it’s one ingredient I have missed cooking with, it’s these blooms with its mild hint of the vivid yellow spice. Next September will surely find me scouring the markets for that magnificent inflorescence…

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *