These are unopened dried tiger lillies (Lilium lancifolium)—the gold or orange lilies that grow in many American gardens—which are dried by the Chinese and used as a texture element and gentle taste in several classic dishes, most notably hot and sour soup and mu-shu pork. The flowers dry to a dark brown blushed with gold and measure about 4 inches long and about ⅛ inch wide (slightly broader at the tip), hence the Chinese name, “golden needles.” The flowers, typically called lily buds in English, are sold in a large tangle, bagged in cellophane. When dry, they have a distinctive, powerful smell. (Once, when vacationing at a hot-springs in the middle of Taiwan, I was stranded in a tiny village owing to the collapse of a rope bridge that hung breathtakingly across an immense chasm and was the only way from the village into the town. The village depended entirely on the hot springs and the cultivation of lily buds, so I alternately bathed and ate the flowers for one very long week. It took me years before I could eat another and not associate their smell with a sulfurous bath!)
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.