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 neighborhood destroyed by typhoon to hold dissolution ceremony

This article appeared in the paper on Friday, October 14th. Here’s a rough translation.

http://www.agara.co.jp/modules/dailynews/article.php?storyid=219367

As a result of the severe damage inflicted by typhoon #12, Okubanchi-ku, part of Hongu in Wakayama Prefecture, will hold a dissolution ceremony at its last neighborhood festival on November 5th. The 10 residents of the Ku have restarted their lives in other parts of Hongu, and thus will draw an end to the neighborhood of Okubanchi.

Okubanchi is the furthest neighborhood toward the mountains from Fushiigami; after crossing the Mikoshi River it’s a five minute drive up. Eight households live quietly, as if they surrounded a temple. The pure river there is known for ayu and amago sweetfish, drawing fishermen from many parts of the country.

The heavy rains of typhoon #12 set off a landslide 300 meters tall and 200 meters wide in the southern part of the neighborhood. Cut off by the slide, the river changed course and cut through the neighborhood. When the river subsided, all that was left of the temple, community center, and two households was a new valley.

The residents spent a few days at Hongu Junior High School, the evacuation center, and then moved in with family members or into vacant homes in the area. Yoshinori Nomoto (84) and his wife Mikiko (75) are living in Mikiko’s parents’ vacant house. They fled without any belongings, so Yoshinori walked back over the blocked road, crossed the valley, and recovered some of his valuables, including his mother’s ring and the family altar, from his mostly-crushed house. Not long thereafter, his house was fully destroyed by the next typhoon, #15.

“I knew Okuban was finished” when the landslide happened, says Mikiko. When her children visited from a different prefecture, they were at a loss for words but knew their parents had to move out. From December Yoshinori and Mikiko will be living in an apartment near Mikiko’s oldest daughter in nearby Nara Prefecture.

November 3rd is the official date of the annual festival at the Okubanku shrine. Knowing it’s the last one, the neighborhood residents are planning a grand sendoff. The neighborhood address records were washed away in the flood, so residents must rely on word of mouth to inform each other of the plans. The ceremonies have been planned for the 5th, a weekend day.

“It’s a small neighborhood and everyone’s friends. If we had young people living here we could get things going again, but we don’t have the power,” says Yoshinori, covering his eyes. “Because of this typhoon damage I was reminded of the kindness of people of Hongu. People are very good to us where we are staying now, and I wish I could continue our relationship with them here.”

Under the only house left unscathed by the flood and landslides is a taro patch. Mikiko has been growing them. “When it gets close to the festival I’ll dig them up. We might have a hundred people come,” she says. She’s looking forward to serving stewed taro to all of the guests at the dissolution ceremony.

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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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Kinzanji miso, Wakayama style

Over the hot, humid summer we made a huge batch of Kinzanji miso with a local grandmother who organized a group to make well over 100 pounds of the stuff. We took home our 25 pounds and it’s been sitting for a month. I think it’s time for a first tasting … tomorrow.

So to get ready for that, here’s a little backstory.

The difference between Kinzanji and regular miso

Kinzanji miso is a young miso that features its ingredients in the whole, rather than smashed or blended, as miso intended for soup does. Most miso is aged for at least 9 months and up to three years, which must include at least one full summer. Kinzanji is aged for one to 18 months maximum. Importantly, most miso for soup is based on one ingedient such as rice, barley, or soybeans; Kinzanji includes all three—and the koji mold fermentation of all three is stopped by massaging in salt after a few hours. However, the addition of lacto-fermented vegetables to Kinzanji before aging adds bacteria to the mix that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

A possible history of Kinzanji miso

Although miso generally means soup to all of us now, the chunky Kinzanji was actually the predecessor of the modern smooth version. It was supposedly brought back from China in the 1200s to a temple in Wakayama, where its preparation was taught and where the liquid that formed on the top of the aging mixture was first tasted and then produced as soy sauce. This is just one of the variations of the story, which can vary by almost a thousand years, but I’ll take it since it’s in Wakayama!

How to eat Kinzanji miso

The most popular way of enjoying this nameh-miso (lit. lickable; that is, to be eaten as-is) is to dip cucumber spears in it. That’s called moro-kyu, and is a great way to eat a light meal without cooking in the hot summer. Kinzanji is also a popular topping for rice and many other dishes.

Kinzanji is actually a ‘highly recommended local gift product’ (和歌山県推薦優良土産品) in Wakayama. It’s also produced in Chiba and Shizuoka and other places in Kansai but on the whole is a little unusual and rare. It’ll always be available in gift shops around here, but having a big crock we’ve made ourselves to enjoy and give away is an experience that fewer and fewer people have these days; maybe it’ll be us teaching the next generation how to do it in a few years.

Up soon — tasting and the production process!

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Roke, typhoon 15–Kyushu, Shikoku, Nagoya. Everywhere but Wakayama?

Typhoon Chebi at peak strength.

Image via Wikipedia

Just like a couple weeks ago, lots of people, young and elderly, are shaking their heads, saying “I’ve never seen anything like this as long as I’ve been alive.”

A couple weeks ago typhoon 12, Talas, swung a neverending chain of rain clouds at the Kii Peninsula, causing the now-famous damage here.  Today Roke seems to have done the same thing–everywhere but here.  Kyushu, Shikoku, and the Gifu/Nagoya area were hit very hard, with 1,300,000 under mandatory or voluntary evacuation in Nagoya alone–more than the population of all of Wakayama Prefecture!

With water of this volume falling the real damage will come as it soaks in, so it’s still very early to make any statements about it one way or another.  It seems that the rain on the Kii Peninsula will fall tonight, so we’ll see how that affects the mountains here, which are possibly still very unstable after Talas’ rain.  For anyone who knows me personally, don’t worry–our mountain is in no danger.  Our little vacation later this week might be, though.

Here’s a Google image search for Typhoon 15 and overflow, in Japanese.

Here’s a Google image search for Nagoya flood in Japanese.

Again, I’ll be posting more frequently on http://www.facebook.com/gaijinfarmer throughout the typhoon, so head over and give it a ‘like’ to keep up on the latest news–translated into English, of course.

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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.