Sunday, March 4, 2012

This Tree’s Flowers Are Edible

WHEN I WENT to Dupax a day after Valentine’s this year, I had for lunch the flowers of a tree that the forester and tree-lover in me was happy to find growing mostly as living posts in many backyards and frontyards of houses in our part of the town.

Now, before your imagination becomes agitated with images of red-petalled flowers being chewed to smithereens by a huge defoliator worm masquerading as a human being, here’s a picture of the tree:

Upward shot of  ame' (birch flower) branches in Domang, Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, with ready-to-harvest leaves and inflorescence. Note the worm-like flowers dangling on the twigs. (Photo by charlz castro)

Yes, my dear fellow on-and-off vegetarian, aside from their being dull green and looking like a “baby butterfy” (bangbangawan in Isinay, igges in Ilocano, uod in Tagalog), the flowers may not be bundled as in a bouquet or made into a lei and offered to your loved ones on Valentine’s Day.

A small to medium-sized tropical  tree that, along with the mango and coffee, is in flowering season  every February or thereabouts, the plant is a member of the Moraceae family and is called ame' in Isinay, alukon (or baeg and bungon) in Ilocano, himbaba-o in Tagalog, birch flower in English, and Broussonettia luzonica (formerly Allaeanthus luzonicus) among botanists.

Now don’t ask me who discovered the idea that this tree’s flowers (or fruits) as well as its young leaves are edible and, in fact, are a cherished delicacy not only among rural Isinays but also Ilocanos.  

As far as I can remember, alukon -- along with saluyot, marunggay, kalunay, katuday, fern, fungi, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, barbaradiong (bahase in Isinay) and ballaiba -- had been part of the repertoire of edible plants (apart from common vegetables) that formed part of my nourishment when I was growing up. 
A file photo of the edible tree flowers called ame' in Isinay. Note how long some of the flowers are.

To cook a plateful of the delicacy, just boil a cup of water, add two or more spoonfuls of salted anchovy (bagoong), squeeze a couple or so of reddish tomatoes, then put the ame flowers in and let the pot simmer for two to three minutes.

To make the viand more tasty/delicious (maattamtam in Isinay, malinamnam in Tagalog, masiram in Bicol, marasa in Visayan, naimas in Ilocano), it is best to cook it with a generous quantity of lima beans (atav in Dupax Isinay, lamero in Bambang Isinay, patani in both Tagalog and Ilocano) or pigeon peas (iris in Isinay, kardis in Ilocano, kadios in Tagalog). 

Then for better impact, toss in deep-fried bangus or, alternatively, grilled mudfish or tilapia or roasted chicken breast, or pindang (dried meat).

Well, that’s how my mother and my sister Arlyne cooked the edible flowers as in-asuj (inabraw or dinengdeng in Ilocano, bulanglang in Tagalog) that I loved to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner when I was home in Dupax -- and which made me forget my New Year resolution to go on diet.

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