gaijinfarmer

Organic farming, Japanese recipes


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Winter fruit in Japan: drying persimmons

The first week of December has passed, and while they’re fighting snowstorms in Hokkaido, we are still harvesting tomatoes from our garden!  The fall this year has been unusually warm but the winter fruits are ripening right on schedule.  In America winter fruit meant a thinning of options in the produce section and a return to apples, oranges, and bananas—the apples from Washington state, if you’re lucky, the rest from further afield.

Here, winter fruit is mikan, or small oranges in various sizes and varieties, and persimmons.  Since mikan are a cash crop there is always an abundance, so as farmers harvest they always pass on extras to neighbors and friends.  Those neighbors and friends already got a bunch of mikan from other farmers, so they pass them along to their own neighbors and friends, who themselves are already overflowing.  It’s a big mikanfest, and by February everyone’s sick of them.  But it’s great to have free fresh fruit wherever you go.

Persimmons are slightly rarer since they’re not a cash crop, but there are many producing trees around so they’re quite easy to get, especially if you don’t mind asking.  They come in two varieties, fuyu-gaki (winter persimmons), and shibu-gaki (bitter persimmons); winter is the most popular variety because you can just peel and eat.  They start coming in November and are served crunchy, and by December you can find nice soft ones you can eat with a spoon.

Bitter persimmons are popular as dried fruit, called hoshi-gaki.  Their astringency disappears and they become very sweet as they dry.  But harvesting and drying them is becoming less common these days, and many people just buy them in packages for a new year’s treat.

There is a tree up the hill from us on a piece of land for sale that had lots of nice bitter persimmons that no one was picking.  We asked our hancho, or neighborhood leader (this is apparently where the word ‘honcho’ came from), who called the real estate company for us and got permission to pick them.  It wasn’t a very large tree but we got 32 kilograms from it!

The big ones we peeled and strung up to dry.  The ones you can see in the foreground have been drying for about a week.  The dark color is natural–any drying fruit will oxidize and change color.  If dried fruit still has a nice fresh color to it, that’s a giveaway that there is sulfur or some other preservative in there.  The fresh ones in back have been hanging for just one night.

You should massage them every day to loosen the fibers and release the sugars; if the conditions are right some sugar will form a white coating on the outside, and those are the most prized.  I’m thinking this year is too warm for that though.

We removed the stems from the smaller persimmons and piled into a pickling vat.  The microorganisms present on their skin should turn them into vinegar in a few months.

Oddly enough, most people I tell about this experiment aren’t even aware that you can do this, even though it was a traditional processed food.  We’ll see what happens.

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Wakayama typhoon–more landslides from rain this weekend

Typhoon #15 is somewhere south of us, sending a wave of rain clouds over Wakayama, Nara, and Mie, the same areas hit hard by Typhoon #12 (Talas, and yes, two more have veered over the Philippines and China since then).  Land that’s already been loosened by the previous rains is getting soaked again, and elevated lakes caused by landslides damming rivers are in danger of breaching, with possible serious consequences.

Now, at 11:30 p.m. on Friday night, the reports of landslides have already started to come in, and two days’ of rain is forecast.  I’ll do my best to stay on top of the Twitter news coming in, and repost in English to Gaijin Farmer’s facebook page.  Please visit, and ‘like’ it to get updates as things happen.

http://www.facebook.com/gaijinfarmer

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New rice hulling and bagging machine

Our old rice hulling machine featured previously finally gave up the ghost, and was replaced with a new model, which naturally features a bright color that makes it easy to coordinate our outerwear when we use it.

The essential functions are unchanged but there are plenty of handy new features which we are finding indispensable such as blinking lights, little buttons, and (I know you know I’m not making this up), when a bag of rice is filled it plays the Mickey Mouse theme song.


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Talas in Wakayama, Japan: the typhoon that just wouldn't go away

I think one of the two things that were so surreal about tropical storm Talas, or Number 12 as we call it over here, was that it only got started after it was supposed to be over.  Moving excruciatingly slowly, it kept us waiting and waiting for it to pass.  When it finally passed, then it started raining, and that’s when all the stuff you’re seeing on the news happened.

Heavy wind, but relatively little rain yet:

On the night it landed I posted to my facebook page, “Why does it only get interesting after dark?”  I like windstorms and was kind of bummed I’d miss this one while I slept.  I was woken up many times through the night, and then finally in the morning, by rattling windows and pounding on the walls.  The wind was just as strong in the morning, and continued through the afternoon.   As time stretched on, we watched the weather updates on TV throughout the day, with the weather commentators noting that it was only going as fast as someone on a bicycle (and they don’t mean a Bianchi around here), and then giving it the name ノロノロ台風 (noronoro taifuu), or sluggish typhoon.

When the sluggish typhoon finally rode its mama-bicycle far enough away that the wind died down, it started to rain.  And rain and rain and rain.  A freakishly direct line of rain clouds spiraled in toward our peninsula, delivering up to 1,800 mm of rain in a period of six days.  For comparison, the wettest typhoon on record happened in 2009 in Taiwan, with 2,327 mm of rain.  So while 500mm more rain would have been disastrous here, we’re somewhere in the same category I think.

Another factor that contributed to the intensity of this storm was the tides.  During the period of peak wind we had three high tides, which were enhanced by the steady, powerful winds, and got blown onshore, over seawalls, into drainage systems, and most importantly, reduced the draining potential of the swollen rivers.

Although it rained hard and long here, the majority of the clouds broke as they hit the eastern mountain slopes on the other side of the peninsula, and that’s where the record rainfall numbers happened.  But the landslides that the continued rain caused happened all over the peninsula, and that’s the second thing that was really surreal about this storm–that it happened here, after all.

The storm made landfall on Shikoku, far enough away we locked the steel shutters into place but didn’t worry too much.  Any typhoon that makes landfall will cause deaths in one way or another, but after the numbers climbed slowly, spread out over Shikoku, our peninsula, and elsewhere, they began to climb faster–and only here.  Although Mie and Nara prefectures got more rain, Wakayama has a higher number of dead and missing by far, and now the newscasters say it every time they take inventory.  The numbers aren’t catastrophic, but there are people within two degrees of separation there, people who live in areas I know well.

In fact, the landslide featured in the video below cut off the overland route to the other side of the peninsula, essentially stranding an area where I used to teach.  The road will be cleared soon enough.  I was hoping to take my scooter over an incredibly narrow mountain road, the back way into that area, to check out the landslide from the other side–but that road starts in the area of Tanabe hit by a gigantic landslide, a tiny neighborhood where three of only six households were flattened.  Although I can’t help the area that’s been cut off, visiting would be fun.  But I can’t get over the feeling that taking that road to get there would be akin to disaster tourism.

I was happy to see that most of the rice still in the fields was still easily harvestable, with only a few fields really flattened.  A local junior high school’s sports fields were hit pretty hard, and a landslide narrowly missed cutting off the main bridge to where I used to live.  Click on any picture below to start a slideshow of the pictures included.

Here the river is much lower than at its crest, but still really dangerous.

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Rice harvest: dryer to bags to storehouse

The rice in the dryer reached 15% moisture content today, so we hulled and bagged it and moved it into the storehouse.  We ended up with 28 30-kilogram bags, which represents a good year for rice despite the sometimes very strange weather.

This video is a real quick introduction into the hulling and bagging process.

When it’s done, what do you have?  Wakayama rice!

 

We have two more loads to do, each spaced three to four days apart to account for drying.  So we should be done sometime next week.

では、早速!
(Without delay, let’s eat!)

Rice that was harvested a couple days ago–delicious!!


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The Japan rice harvest has begun!

When it gets close to rice harvest time, everyone watches the weather.  Harvesting after a rain means a very heavy harvest, and letting mature rice get hit by a typhoon can be disastrous–it can get flattened and must be harvested by hand immediately or it will rot.

This week’s forecast is for clouds and rain, so naturally it was sunny today.  We went to cut the weeds at the entrances to the rice fields so trucks can get in and out without slipping, and just in time, as the friends who do our harvesting decided to get a jump on the weather and harvest today.

You may remember that their rice planter is bright blue.  To round out the garage palette they bought the orange harvester.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a beautiful day!  Keep going for some videos that show the operation of the harvester.

 

 


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Rainy season and ume plum liquor

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!

Japanese plums on the tree

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!

Finding the best ones

Picking is usually a pretty sweaty affair but this year it was a very pleasant family evening out.

In pretty short order we had 12 kilos or so.

Soaking in water for cleaning

Drying

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! 😉

Plums soaking in liquor and sugar

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!

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