I was still in bed early one morning when I heard “scus me, scus me”. When I was convinced she wasn’t going to go away I staggered out on my balcony and looked down. A young Latina woman was looking up at me. Yes? I asked. In broken English she asked if she could take some of my yucca flowers. At this point I have to say I was shocked. Not shocked that she wanted the flowers, but really surprised that she asked and that this conversation was taking place in the light of day.
For years roving crews of yucca flower robbers have been plundering my 30’ stands of mature yuccas in the middle of the night. I’m alerted to them when all the dogs on the street start going nuts. Typically, one guy drives the truck while another jumps out wielding a long stick with a sharp blade at the end. A long string operates the hooked blade, which chops off the 12 to 15 inch flowers. Once, I was able to look into the bed of the truck and it was filled with piles of the unique spears of white waxy flowers.
I work with several Central Americans so when this first started I asked them why people were stealing my flowers. They informed me that the yucca flower is a prized delicacy. The flowers are first boiled to remove some of the bitterness, then most often they’re sauteed with onions and tomatoes and scrambled eggs.
Once as I was driving the streets of LA I actually saw them for sale. A clothes-line affair was anchored by a streetlight and a traffic signpost. The beautiful yucca flowers were attached by their stems, hanging upside down. I remember thinking a dollar? They’re only charging a dollar for my beauties?
But this young woman says she is making them into tamales. That they’re for the family, but I have a suspicion that some lucky El Salvadoreno or Guatamalteco will be eating very well on the streets of LA all because of an especially enterprising young woman.
Evan Kleiman is chef owner of Angeli Caffe, co-author of the classic cookbooks Cucina Fresca, Pasta Fresca and Cucina Rustica and host of Good Food, a radio show which airs on KCRW 89.9fm in Southern California.