周领顺 译  


An Ode to the Acacia Flower



The acacia flower appeals in both its beauty and flavor. And, consuming the acacia flower is what occurs most often to Northern Chinese, typically in the form of steaming, baking, or stuffing. Whatever your imagination can lead you to, it can be served to your taste. The acacia flower is an absolutely special gift from nature, and within a lapse of ten days or so, it will be gone with a gust of wind. Therefore, acacia flowers are a seasonal delicacy. Alas, we have such a harvest as the fruitful autumn can bestow especially in the so-called fruitless spring.


The acacia flower comes from the acacia tree with the prefix of yang (foreign) in Chinese referring to something abroad. The acacia tree is from North America and was brought to China in the second half of the 19th century. As the acacia flower and the Chinese scholar tree flower both share the same head word huai, the poetic lines (“The autumn winds are swirling more and more; the Chinese scholar tree flower is developing into seeds.”) from poet Bai Juyi and those (“The Chinese scholar tree flowers are blown into the city moat; autumn is approaching in the Zhongnanshan hills.”) from poet Zi Lan in the Tang dynasty (618AD—907AD) are in fact descriptions of the Chinese scholar tree flower in the autumn rather than the acacia flower in the spring. The Chinese scholar tree is often planted as a landscape tree with the crown of the tree taking the shape of an umbrella with its branches drooping. However, it is the acacia tree that comes into sight more often, being in the courtyard and next to the waters. Apart from the reason that the acacia tree is easy to grow, the tree’s delicate yet durable texture makes it a fine wood to craft furniture from, which means that it is not only grown purely for this ten-day flower feast, but also for other purposes. The acacia flower is quite rich in protein, fatty acids, vitamins and mineral substances with the function of reducing blood pressure and unclogging arteries, edible and medicinal being in one. Surely, ordinary people would not be so well-informed unless they purposely searched for the knowledge.


With the blooming season quickly approaching, the white acacia flower with its greenish edges reflects the texture of jade. Strings of acacia flowers are abundant on branches and twigs, which fill the air with a faint scent. The fragrance of the acacia flower entails the prime time of spring.


The so-called “faint scent” is far from faint. When surrounded by acacia flowers it is not only fragrant but fragrant enough to appear stifling. The aroma turns into a faint scent only in the wind, attracting bees, and with bees come honey; it also attracts passersby, hence plant-enthusiasts. Going even further are the men and women longing for the acacia flower feast. There is a Chinese idiom that says “Be beautiful enough to feast the eyes”, which means the flower is so beautiful that you can feast your eyes on it and forget about your real hunger. But on the contrary, the acacia flower can increase your appetite dramatically: steamed acacia flowers with garlic flavor, cake made from acacia flowers with a burnt odor and a steamed stuffed bun with plain fragrance, all come to mind at once; all these are graphic, contributing to the appreciation of visitors and attracting them to cook sometimes.


To pluck the acacia flower, you should be particular about not only its thorns, but also its shape. The acacia tree has hard sharp thorns scattered all over its branches and leaves. You are a real seasoned picker if your hands haven’t been pricked two or three times while collecting the flowers. Though the acacia tree has a bark rough enough for teenagers to climb, the thorns provide a little protection and safety for nesting birds. The acacia flower has roughly three shapes from first shoot to full bloom. When it first appears to be the shape of a rice grain, it can be edible though tart. When the flower turns a yellowish color, it is already too ripe. The best time to eat the acacia flower is when it is in the bud, appearing like a crescent moon and tasting sweet and delicious.


When the acacia flowers have the shape of a rice grain, it hasn’t quite taken the shape of a flower yet. It is quite a pity to pluck them this early and it is best to leave them to flower for a few days. You can eat the buds while waiting for the rice grains to be at their prime time to be plucked. Besides that, the petals of the fully ripe acacia flowers can be distinguished by their yellowish color and full blossoms; besides, the fully ripe acacia flowers fall with just the slightest touch, leaving a bare bony pistil shivering at the center of the sepals. Fully ripe acacia flowers can be eaten, too, especially when wrapped in a steamed baozi, the flavor being chewy. In the old days, old men and women used to round up the fallen dried flowers to save them for future use. But if you’d like to have a taste in season, the buds are of course the preferred choice.


People from the South only know of a few edible flowers, such as sweet-scented osmanthus and common bomhax flowers. Being a northerner, I know and taste not only the acacia flower, but also the elm seeds on the elm tree, the panicles on the paper mulberry tree, the paulownia flowers on the paulownia tree and the willow catkins on the willow tree. Flowers like these are tasty and have medicinal values as well. In the springtime in the North, there are often streams of people plucking flowers off trees, which make up flows of scenery. In history, Southerners were richer than Northerners, so they need not taste all kinds of herbs to make them feel full. Though happy, they have missed opportunities to satisfy their appetite with edible tree flowers. The virtues of the acacia flower deserve an ode.





1. 原文原载美国2021年5月28日的《达拉斯新闻》。这里的“吟”(Ode),既可以看作一种文体,如《葬花吟》《西风颂》,也可以有其实际的内涵(歌颂)。本文旨在歌颂美德,略显正式,最后一句再次出现,前后呼应。


2. “想到”一般是主动想起,但鉴于槐花时节的槐花特别引人注目,所以将“槐花”作为施动者,用occur to 短语表“想到”,有类似“墙角数枝梅,凌寒独自开。遥知不是雪,为有暗香来”而表“闻到”的受动感,更能凸显所歌颂的主题。英语中类似的表达如“I’m interested in the book.”,用-ed 形式表示的是book 的主动(The book is interesting.),是“书令我感兴趣”“书引人入胜”,不是因为“我对书感兴趣”而把“我”表达为施动者。


3. “国槐”称为Chinese scholar tree 或pagoda tree,因观感不同,本文作了“树冠如伞,丝绦垂地”的描摹。“洋槐”是acacia tree。


4. “白中泛绿”指的是主体部分为白色而边缘部分呈绿色,因此译为the white acacia flower with its greenish edges。


5. “槐花痴”指的是痴迷于植物的人们(plant-enthusiasts),因为有上下文,所以无需专门凸显槐花,用一般常用的说法代之即可,实际也无专门的“槐花痴”一说,这样翻译也不致引起误解。


6. 该“槐米”不是国槐树上结的、常被用作药材的蓓蕾,所以不能用常用的bud of the Chinese scholar tree 表示,这里凸显的只是米粒状(rice grains)的洋槐花。


7. “德”,即“道德”,这里特指槐花的优点,使用virtues 一词,既能包容一般意义,也能涵盖特指意义。