We’re getting ready for a trip back to America in a couple days, and it looks like we might be taking off through a typhoon! The 2nd of the year is on its way north, over Okinawa right now, and it looks like a doozy.
Seasons around here are wacky. A very popular question for foreigners is, “Do you have four seasons in your country?”, and no amount of meteorological education can sway people’s instinctive belief that Japan is the only place in the world that really has four seasons.
Despite this, you could easily argue that the extended rainy season between spring and summer constitutes a fifth season, and the Japanese certainly treat it as such. Temperatures usually drop a little, the humidity skyrockets, and the typhoons start coming. As they form in the SW Pacific and start to swing northward they’re a regular feature on the news, and as they get closer they bring days of rain if they swing wide, or an increasing gale and downpour if they come our way. During the rainy season I’ve had leather shoes grow mold and wool sweaters mildew. They’re in sealed bags this year!
The rainy season apparently started 18 days early this year, and despite the fairly cool temperatures we were lucky that the ume plums ripened a bit early too, in time for our trip. We like to invite ourselves over to our friend’s house who grows the plums and help ourselves to some of the variety called ‘nan-kou’. That’s the variety used for juice or liquor, rather than pickling, and as such they just leave those trees to themselves and harvest what comes–the other trees they spray, process into salted pickles, and sell mostly on the domestic market. We always make umeshu, Japanese plum liquor. If you’ve tried the Choya stuff from the store and found it way too sweet, remember that it’s possible to make your own at any sweetness level you like. We usually use 40-50% of the standard amount of sugar, resulting in a sweet but very tart liquor. Delicious!
Picking is usually a pretty sweaty affair but this year it was a very pleasant family evening out.
Processing is pretty easy–just remove the stem connecting point with a skewer or knife, soak overnight to wash, lay them out to dry, and set them soaking in 35% alcohol white liquor and some sugar. That’s it! In as little as 3 months you can enjoy it, but you can soak the plums much longer and then even age the product after you remove the plums. We have some 5- and 10-year stuff around here somewhere… not telling where!
In the last picture you can see the color has changed–these have been soaking overnight at this point. If you look closely you’ll see that the plums are also floating in the middle of the liquid. The sugar has dissolved and the sugar-heavy liquid has sunk to the bottom and it’s heavier than the plums. It’ll all normalize in time.
As a final note on plums, these are not really plums. They’re actually species of apricot but if we started calling them that no one would know what we’re talking about. So for everyday purposes, they’re plums! I hope you agree that the misnomer isn’t quite as offensive as, say, the Clean Air or Patriot acts.
And we’re offline for a month and a half! See you all soon enough in the summer heat!
- Umeshu made with Organic Plums from Umegashima, Shizuoka City! (shizuokagourmet.wordpress.com)