Food, food culture, food as culture and the cultures that grow our food

Hibiscus flowers

June 12, 2005

One million years ago, when I was a little girl, I had a piano teacher called Miss Pierce. She was an elegant and graceful woman, and ancient, as far as I was concerned. She was the secret girlfriend of Mr. Greenjeans, from the chilluns’ TV show, Captain Kangaroo! We lived in a university town full of orange and date orchards on the edge of the desert, and Miss Pierce was probably one of the few people there that fulfilled for me, in her own weird and spinster way, the notion of what it is to be ‘fabulous’.

I used to arrive at her strangely decorated house (entirely too much yellow) for piano lessons with my neighbour Michelle, who was even more of a tomboy than I was. The two of us played so rambunctiously that Miss Pierce decided to give us ‘lady-lessons’ at no extra charge. We agreed to the lady-lessons because we just loved listening to Miss Pierce blather on and on about table manners and gentlemen as we sipped hibiscus tea and nibbled girlscout cookies, all the while kicking eachother surreptitiously under the table.

Miss Pierce liked her hibiscus tea incredibly sour but I never added sugar because my parents had indoctrinated me to think that sugar was ‘White Death’, and I was trying to get my head around enjoying sour things. Hibiscus flowers in their wet form, alive and still on the tree, are forever connected in my mind with my father and his battle against vast herds of aphids on his hibiscus trees. But hibiscus flower in its dry form and as a tea still reminds me of my piano teacher, Miss Pierce, patiently battling to turn me and Michelle into ladies.

Today I’m experimenting with using hibiscus flower as a souring agent in a batch of quick pickles and a vegetable broth intended for a summer borscht although 12°c doesn’t really qualify as summer.

Hibiscus daikon pickles

daikon radish, thinly sliced
dried hibiscus flowers

rice wine vinegar
coriander seeds
juniper berries
garlic, thinly sliced
bay laurel

debra at 14:25 | | post to


  1. What is that red liquid(juniper berries?)above the rolled daikon in third photo?

    Comment by Indira — June 13, 2005 @ 0:33

  2. Hi Indira, This is a very strong hibiscus infusion that I am using to dye the daikon strips red and make them sour. I threw some rock salt on the lot, also the rolls below, and the salt leached out juices from the daikon, producing more brine. In some of the rolls I put in the hibiscus flowers dry and others I had soaked it for a few minutes to get it pliable. I wanted to see the difference in the dying effect. Last night I tasted the daikon pickle and it was really delicious. Today I’ll taste again and report back.

    Comment by debra — June 13, 2005 @ 9:35

  3. Juniper berries are in the second photo along with coriander etc, now I understand. Thanks for explaining again.

    Comment by Indira — June 13, 2005 @ 13:40

  4. I was a little girl over 2 million years ago so I can’t even remember the name of my piano teacher. She was certainly far too old and craggy to have any kind of boyfriend, though, especially a famous one.

    Your ideas in the kitchen are so astounding. I am inspired by you, but helpless to act on it because the level of your creativity raises the bar so high, I don’t think I could touch it, even if I jumped as hard as I could.

    Comment by Sam — June 27, 2005 @ 23:17

  5. You flatter me, dear Sam. Thank you.
    You made my evening with your sweet comment.

    Comment by debra — June 27, 2005 @ 23:59

  6. This is the most interesting pickle I have ever seen! I am curious to learn how they taste.
    Btw. did you see the pickle shops in Istanbul when you came here? They are just mouthwatering!

    Comment by Isil — January 25, 2006 @ 0:23

  7. I came across your site and enjoyed my visit. Thank You.

    Comment by Andrew Spark — March 20, 2006 @ 11:21

  8. Ooo sweet D thank you for making my days with your blog!

    Comment by marlein — April 15, 2006 @ 14:16

  9. Hi. Exactly how do you dry hibiscus flowers?

    I have Hundreds of hibiscus flowers each year, but never dranked the tea!

    Comment by Antonio Ferreira — May 14, 2006 @ 22:59

  10. debra i agree with sam…..
    well but we differ slighlty at one point ….i think you ideas not just in the kitchen but street,market,at the dinner ,etc….seem are absolutely amazing……i was in delhi till before doors of perception 9 started….i was researching in chandni chowk for street side knooks for food…….(am a design student and working on street side gastronomic places)…….i’ve really enjoyed all culiblogs…….wish i would have known about ‘doors of perception’ happening there… would have loved to share a few words with you too……

    Comment by neha — April 16, 2007 @ 6:58

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