gaijinfarmer

Organic farming, Japanese recipes


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How to make miso–Wakayama style

Tasting Kinzanji miso

The Kinzanji miso is a success! The rice fermented into a very soft paste that holds the whole thing together, the barley is soft but springy, and the soybeans are still nice and firm. It’s quite sweet but also tart and tangy, just right as a veggie or rice topping. Now the final trick will be giving it all away, because there’s no way we can eat 11 kilograms!

(Some pictures are in line; click on any picture in the gallery at the bottom to see the full set.)

Making Kinzanji miso

Making Kinzanji miso takes three days of work—not continual work, but work timed at intervals such that it’s hard to do too much more than just make miso. Luckily for us we were guests of the woman in charge, and she did all the off-hours tasks.

Prepping the grains

The first day we arrived early in the morning and built fires for steaming the grains. We had one portable gas stove and the stove in the kitchen, and we also built three fires in the bays of the traditional stove and one under the outdoor steamer. A hot business, that, in August! I had  my face close in to the fires until someone pointed out the length of bamboo with a hole poked in the distal end–a great way to blow on a fire from afar. It was a bit of a tap on the shoulder about our preconceptions, what we look for and what we overlook in going about our everyday affairs.

The rice had been soaking overnight, and was put on the steamer. While it was steaming for the first hour we hulled the soybeans in a hand mill, then separated the skins with a traditional tool—see videos of these steps below.

The barley and soybeans got mixed and were stacked on the steamers, so the rice was on for a total of two hours and the barley/soy for one.

Both were cooled to 37 degrees C and the special koji mold was mixed in.  The rice was mounded in large containers and loosely covered with a moist cloth to prevent drying; the barley/soy mix was spread out in wooden trays with only newspaper draped over to prevent bugs from getting in.

Here we took a break and a welcome shower. Five hours later, in the evening, we poured the barley/soy back into large containers and gave it and the rice a good mixing to make sure the mold culture was evenly spread. The mold was very apparent on both by this time.

Koji mold fermentation

Many people are probably thinking that moldy food = bad food. Really, the only difference between fermented foods and spoiled foods is the type of microorganisms that are present in them. If you’ve ever had yogurt, cheese, beer … you’ve benefited not only from lactobacillic organisms, but also from yeasts, molds, and much more. As most experienced fermenters know, white mold is usually a good sign, and can be scraped off before eating. Molds of any other color are bad, the darker the worse, and their presence means a good cleaning and starting the project from scratch.

One other note on molds, or any microorganisms really, is that culturing is as much a numbers game as anything else. The salt in sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented foods is there to inhibit the growth of baddies while the desired cultures increase. When a miso maker we know up in the mountains moved into an old elementary school, he first took handfuls of his mold culture and threw it all over the walls, ceiling, and in every cranny of the room that was to be his culturing room. As anyone who’s been in old school buildings here knows, they’re havens for mold and who knows what else—he had to make sure that his mold was the only one growing in his culturing room.

But I digress … we gave our moldy grains a good mix and put them down for the night.

Lacto-fermented vegetables prep

The next afternoon we arrived and started preparing the ginger, eggplant, and ‘uri’ white gourd for pickling. After putting them down with salt we took off until the evening, when we returned to process the shiso leaves and sesame seeds.

Late that night our hostess mixed some salt into the rice and barley mixtures, stopping the koji mold fermentation. When we arrived for our last morning the only thing left to do was to mix the rice, barley/soy mix, and all the vegetables together evenly. We divided it up into buckets, and that’s where it’s been sitting for a month.

What a process! I definitely see why you’d want to do a hundred pounds or more at a time, but would encourage anyone with an opportunity to make miso to give it a try. At the very least you’ll have twenty-some pounds of reminder of your labors!

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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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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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It's rice planting time in Japan!

The landscape is changing here every day.  Fields that were dry yesterday are flooded today, and the rice planters are out in force from morning to evening.  Some warmer areas of the peninsula are completely planted, and depending on the water supply some neighborhoods are just now setting their seed.

We were a day ahead of schedule and had some pretty short sprouts, but our rice is in and things are looking good.  This year’s been much colder than most: crops in general are two weeks behind average, and lots of people are reporting that their rice sprouts aren’t growing to expectation.  Ours were generally plenty tall, with some strange short spots due to too much dirt over the seeds in the trays or temperature differences inside the tunnels.

To prep for planting the rice, the fields are flooded and then gone over one last time with a tractor to level the ground under the water.  Then pretty much every field bigger than spittin distance wide is planted with a 田植え機 (ta-ue-ki), or rice field planting machine.  Since we don’t have one we contract with a friend who does.

Why don’t we have one?  The big difference between running a field with this machine and doing it with a regular tractor is that with a regular tractor, if you make a mistake you can just go around again and cover your tracks, but if you’re planting rice you only have one go-round.  You really have to know how to cover all the ground without repeating yourself.  So it’s not just a matter of having the machine and the time.

The tractor itself looks like a cross between a bumblebee, and the queen ant if the worker ant were a Segway.  But blue.  Maybe they threw Hello Kitty’s cousin in the vat as an experiment?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It rides on wheels that look like they were lifted from a turn-of-last-century bicycle, so as to disturb as little mud as possible.  The rear consists of a curved feed device for feeding the seed trays toward the planters, which are helped by gravity but controlled by a belt that moves each row of seed trays in steps toward the planting devices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a hopper for distributing moto-goe, or fertilizer, to the base of the planted seedlings, and finally, there are four rows of rotating twin planting forks.  The videos will go a long way to help explaning the whole thing.

Since the rows have to be straight the four planting forks can’t move side to side; thus, the entire feed mechanism moves back and forth, with the belt feeders notching the seed trays down one row with each pass like a manual feed typewriter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often early and the morning and with little notice, the driver’s wife swoops by our garden to pick up trays in a small truck and then runs off to the first field.  The planting tractor is carried directly to the field in a heavy truck.

At first the seedlings are transferred from the trays to a transport tray; the root system holds the whole thing together at this point, making transport easy.  Then they’re slid onto the feed mechanism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tractor has trays near the driver’s compartment for holding extras; in the case of one of our smallest fields eight trays were loaded into the feeder, with two extra near the driver just in case.  But our driver is really good with his settings, and plants the fields with just a little left over for hand-planting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the tractor’s going, the driver’s wife gets in the field and plants the corners by hand which the tractor can’t do.  When they’re done, we get in the field with our special boots that are held on with some extra loops of rubber.  We check that each planted spot has five or so sprouts in it.  If there are too few we add some since they grow better in bunches.  The mud is really soft so it’s just a matter of tearing off some sprouts from the bunch, squish in the mud, and repeat.  The hard part is keeping your balance while shin-deep in mud.  No one’s fallen over yet…

 


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Measuring in Japanese 2: field sizes

Yesterday was a long day of prepping the rice for planting. We used our isshou masu a while back to measure our rice seeds, and yesterday we measured those into the trays that we will later load into the robot tractor for planting in the field.

You recall that isshou is 1.8 liters, and that we measured 2 of those into most of our mesh bags for germination. That’s because we line the trays up in sets of 10 for seed spreading, and 2 shou is just the right amount of seed for 10 trays.

We line these trays are with vinyl sheets to prevent the shoots’ roots from growing through the drainage holes, and then put in a layer of sprouting dirt and level it off.  Once the trays are lined up, we use a small hopper that distributes the rice seed, fill in any empty areas by hand, and then use another hopper to put a layer of dirt over the top.  We give each layer a good soak, which makes the whole thing very heavy–I think we could just as easily soak them after we transfer them!

Over in the garden we use the tractor to flatten out a good area of land, then scrape it by hand with a board to make sure it’s as level as possible.  A bottom sheet of vinyl goes down, then the rice trays, a layer of black mulch which you can see on the middle row, and finally a heavy silver vinyl sheet makes a tunnel.  It was quite windy yesterday, so wrestling with all the sheets was a real chore.  We were quite proud and exhausted when we finished.  In all it was about 6 hours of work for me and 4 for my mother-in-law.

So where will this all go?  2 shou of rice seeds is enough for 10 trays, and 20 trays will plant one ‘tan’, which is almost exactly 1,000 square meters.  It’s interesting (or maybe not) that the term ‘tan’ is still in popular use, while 1/10 of a tan is called an ‘are’, (pronounced a-ru) which is the actual metric measurement that the hectare is based on.

The long tunnels each hold 30 trays and the short one has 18.  The long tunnel on the left has a variety called Milky Princess, and the middle and right have Milky Queen. They’re very similar to each other, but unique around here as most people use Koshinohikari or other more popular strains. Everyone loves the rice at the restaurant, so I guess that’s proof enough to keep doing what we’re doing.


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Measuring in Japanese: using a masu

In planting rice we deal with lots of measurements held over from olden times that are mixed with the easy to understand metric system.   It’s similar to America, except that in America we don’t have the easy to understand metric system–we just have the obscure measurements held over from ancient times.  (It’s odd to me that while some early Americans deliberately changed the spelling of certain words–just one example–to differentiate us from the Brits, they didn’t try to leave the Imperial system of measurement behind.  I’m just grateful we don’t have shillings.  What the heck are those, anyway?)

One of the main measurements of volume is ‘shou’, which is equal to 1.8 liters.  The main things that come in a shou are rice and liquid fermented foods, including sake and soy sauce.

You can buy an ‘isshou’ (1 shou) bottle of sake in stores, but in older times it was measured with a box called a masu.  The masu is now popular as a way to drink sake in the ichigo (1 go) size, which is a good amount of sake to drink and is also conveniently a good amount of rice for one meal for two people.  The masu also came in the ‘gongo’ (5 go) size, and, of course, the ‘isshou’ (or 10 go) size.   When you buy a rice cooker in Japan, its volume is measured in ‘go’ or ‘shou’. Pictured here is the 1.8 liter size.

The cool thing about using a square box as a way to measure is that it can measure more than just its original volume.  If you tip it straight down so that the contents make a line from the lip on one side to the intersection of the wall and floor at the opposite side, you get exactly half of the original volume.  That’s pretty easy to understand.  But if you turn 45 degrees and tip again on the diagonal, so that the contents overflow at a corner and meet the floor at the other two points of the right isosceles triangle, you get 1/6 of the original volume.   Very handy for those of you who frequent sushi joints, I’m sure.

By the way, what you’re looking at there is some of the best water in the world. I feel lucky every day to be drinking it.

Up next: how an isshou masu of rice fits into our rice field area measurements.