Saturday, September 08, 2012

Cultural Education Journal: Another Umeboshi Post!

Well, they're done. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it! Not trying to toot my own horn or anything, but even though I'm supposed to let them age for another 4 months or so, they're delicious, so I can't help but eat some right away... and it's been despicably hot here. Umeboshi are the only thing that make me feel better some days. :)

Here's some photos of the process from start to finish.

Actually, the beginning of the process was talking to my teachers at school and to the ladies at church. They provided me with all kinds of recipes and information. For some women, making umeboshi is a yearly ritual, something they learned from their mothers and hope to pass on to their daughters or daughters-in-law. It's become rather rare for women of my generation to go to all this trouble, when you can buy umeboshi in the store. But there's just something wonderful about homemade umeboshi... or any kind of homemade pickle.

I bought about 5 kg of ume plums. They smelled heavenly, similar to apricots. I had to wait about a week until they ripened fully. Since the ume have to be absolutely perfect--no blemishes whatsoever, or they might mold--I used the less than perfect ones to make ume syrup, which makes a delicious soda when added to sparkling water. (And then we liked the ume syrup so much that we started keeping watch for sale-ume at the store and made a second batch... :)

Ripening ume plums
Ume syrup in progress
The ripened plums were sprinkled with salt (lots and lots of salt!) and arranged in a giant pickling crock, and then I put about 7 kg of weights on top.

The purpose of the weights is to get the plums to release their juices. Of course the salt is also crucial to this process too. I think with 13% salt and more than 2x the weight of the plums set on top, it only took about 36 hours for the plum juices (ume-su) to rise above the top of the plums. Then I reduced to a single 2 kg weight.

The next step is to wait and wait. I went on vacation and came back... and then waited some more. I think it was only supposed to be about 2 weeks, but I couldn't find large quantities of red shiso or shin-shouga (young ginger). Eventually I did. (And I discovered a great grocery store in the process--Hokuren Shop sells lots of local stuff, including gorgeous locally grown beets that you usually can't find in Japan! But they will also special order stuff at no extra charge. Yay for great veggies and great customer service!)

The next step was to salt the red shiso and squeeze out the excess juices, then mix with some of the ume-su. Finally, the shiso and ginger are layered back into the pickling crock on top of the plums to add flavor and color.

And then we wait a bit longer... for some good weather, since the ume and shiso are sun-dried to give them a nice texture and improve the flavor. Finally we had nice weather... and then it rained and rained. So I put them out for one day, but then they went back in the crock in the ume-su again for another week or so while I waited for the weather to clear up.

Finally, we had a few sunny days in the forecast! (I'm laughing to remember how I hoped for hot weather, given the last several weeks... thankful that it's raining today!!) The ume dried in the sun for about 4 more days. Usually it would have been 3 total, but because our balcony is quite narrow, they only got about 3-4 hours of direct sunlight/day.

Shiso is in the foreground; the ume are covered to prevent bug-attack.
The before picture: the ume are still quite plump and light colored.
The after picture: shriveled and sparkly with salt crystals.
Finally I gathered them up and put them in a pickle jar to wait until New Year's. The flavor will continue to improve for the next 5 years or so, according to my Japanese friends.

Only I couldn't wait. I've been sampling them with some regularity...

Ah, delicious umeboshi!

If you're interested in knowing more about the process in more detail (in English), try this site. My process was slightly different--higher salt content (13%), heavier weights, shiso added later in the process, addition of shin-shouga, and longer drying time.


Laurie Elliot said...

tYou would get on very well with the Elliot girls. They love their umeboshi and they love preserving food. I don't think anyone's made umeboshi this year but Mary and Sarah have overtaken my kitchen - they've been canning and freezing for weeks now. And up in Sapporo Anna is making jam.

Celia Olson said...

I do get along well with Anna, although I wish I could see her more often... and I imagine I would get along well with your other daughters. :) I forgot to mention the ume jam I made with a marked-down-for-quick-sale bag of ume towards the end of the season... delicious!

Tim and Susan said...

You are AWESOME...making homemade dried plums! Good for you.