asian culture

How to Make Dried Pineapple Flowers

My grandmother • Her pineapple farm • Memories of Taiwan

Dried Pineapple Flowers. A recipe and a story about a favourite person I wanted to write about for a very long time— my grandma — a tea and pineapple farmer in Nantou, Taiwan. The person who instilled in me a love for this marvellous fruit. Golden, ripened under the sun, syrupy sweet they hurt your teeth and so fragrant that drivers put them in their cabs as a natural perfume.

So much of my love for food, being in the kitchen, making things with my hands come from grandma, who wakes up at five am every day to cook for the masses. Tables filled with marinated pork with eggs, her famous fried fish with tomato sauce, sesame oil chicken for winter months, and the best-fried tofu I could eat platefuls of with congee and soy sauce every morning.

Since grandpa passed a few years ago, grandma renounced meat (a tradition in Buddist culture where they believe will help grandpa’s soul go to heaven). Since then, all activity in grandma’s kitchen has stopped. My remaining family on the farm eats out while grandma eats her vegetarian meals in solitude. My heart kind of breaks over this and for my grandmother — who shows so much love through food. I also feel the urge to share more of her recipes and write about my childhood memories and places that will never be the same.

I made two batches of these pineapple flowers and photographed them over the course of a few days. It was difficult to find a recipe that was not too western but one that I could make. I also realized that no recipe or photograph can convey the importance of pineapples in my life, or compare to any of the recipes grandma makes. But one must try.

There are so many recipes I want to collect from grandma — her delicious fried long green beans, squash flowers from her yard and boiled noodles with tea oil (茶油麵線). I wish I could teleport to her farm and take more photos of grandma — slicing pineapples with graceful skills acquired from a lifetime.

So here it is, a simple but tedious recipe dedicated to my pineapple farmer grandma, whose love for her grandchildren travels miles and continents. To the fruit my mother hated as a child because she had to eat way too many of them. And to the fruit I always leave grandma’s house with, wrapped snugly in newspapers to bring back to Taipei or wherever I am headed.

Dried Pineapple Flowers

You will need:

One ripe pineapple
A sharp knife or mandolin
Baking trays and sheets

Instructions:

1. Cut both ends of the pineapple. Stand pineapple on the bottom and cut deliberately around the fruit. Do not be afraid to cut into the flesh and get rid of the eyes (鳳梨眼 in Mandarin). The pineapple will taste less tart.

2. Cut pineapple into even slices as thin as possible (thin enough that you can see the blade through the slice). I used a knife but a mandolin should work too. Dry on paper towels and lay flat without overlapping on a baking sheet.

3. Bake at 220F for an hour. After 30 minutes, flip pineapples flowers. Bake and repeat until pineapples are dried, golden with a texture that represents dried mangos.

4. Place pineapple flowers in muffin tins to attain a curvy shape. Store in an airtight container with lotsa room as the flowers will stick to each other. I kept mine stored separately in silicon muffin cups.

* These flowers are great as a topping for smoothies, yogurt, cakes or eat as a snack. They also make very impressive gifts to your co-workers or friends.

* Check on your pineapple flowers when they are almost done as they go from dried to burnt in a very short time. If your pineapple flowers are still wet to the touch, turn the heat off and leave them in the oven overnight!

A photo of me and grandma. Photographed on her farm in 2017.
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A Recipe: Roasted Korean pears with Ginger

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This post has been updated on my website here.

One of my new year goals for 2019 is to write more — and what better subject to write about than food? Asian culture is a culture that revolves heavily around food. The making, the eating, the sharing. Oftentimes revolved around gossip, singing, or maybe a game of mahjong for the uncles and aunties. It is something I am really excited to share.

These pears were grown by Papa Hsin in his yard in Canada. As Asian parents go, I didn’t grow up knowing my dad as he spent a lot of time working. As a child, sometimes the only interaction we will have is when he signed my report cards every week (a moment where I will tremble slightly, even though I have always been a top student). But food — will forever be a way Asian parents show love. A catch-up session with Papa Hsin will always start with him pulling out fruit, steamed buns or something he made from his bag and handing it over with a smile. I think it is his peace offering for all the smiles he didn’t give me when he signed my report cards.

Similar to me, my dad grew up in many places. One of my favorite subjects to ask him about is the time when he lived in Saudi Arabia and worked as a martial arts trainer for the police force. The stories of endless deserts, lizard hunting with bearded men, drinking camel milk and getting lost in sandstorms. Terrorism, female rights. They were the stories that teleported me to faraway places and planted in me a seed for travel and social justice. In fact — one of my career goals as a high school student was to become a journalist and cover stories of war and in the Middle East. Of course, that didn’t end up happening and today, both of us settled in Canada where I work as a photographer and him as a retired officer. I like to think that we are both finding our peace and place here. Him in his garden, hosting dinners with Chinese neighbors and me in the kitchen, behind the camera, or off backpacking to another exciting location.

Food to me will always be magic. It is the art of creating something from simple and good ingredients. Food is a vehicle for stories, culture, and tradition. A delicious reminder that we are cared for and thought of.

So here to the new year, I hope it will be one filled with stories and meals shared over tables with conversations that are long and good.

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Roasted Korean pear with ginger

Ingredients:

• 4 Korean pears. Sliced in half with the seeds removed

• 1 tbsp fresh ground ginger*

• A dash of ground cinnamon

• A squeeze of lemon juice

• 1 tbs brown sugar (opt out if you aiming for less sugar)

Directions: 

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

2. Place pears on a baking tray with cut sides up. Sprinkle ground ginger, cinnamon powder, lemon juice on pears. Top with brown sugar.

3. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender. 

4. Let the pears cool before serving, preferably with vanilla ice cream. Preferably with a friend. Enjoy.

*I like to use organic ginger since I find it more pungent. I’ve also found ginger jam to be a good substitute.

A photo of me and Papa in his yard. Shot on film in 2017.

Happy New Year!