KAMEOKA CORNER: Umeboshi: Japan's favorite pickle

Posted by On 5:52 PM

KAMEOKA CORNER: Umeboshi: Japan's favorite pickle

Larry Jones

A few months ago I wrote an article about Japanese pickles and described a number of different kinds of pickles, but intentionally didn’t write about one kind of pickle which is probably the favorite of many in Japan and is therefore deserving of its own article.

The Japanese plum tree is not as famous as the Japanese cherry tree relative to the beauty of the blossoms, however the plum tree has its own “claim to fame.” It’s the first tree to bloom each year signaling the coming of spring and it bears fruit called ume.

Most of the fruit is picked when it’s about the diameter of a quarter, still green, very hard and more sour than a green apple. Yet vast quantities of these virtually inedible ume are sold in markets across Japan every year in e arly June.

Some are used to make a plum wine called umeshu, but the vast majority are used to make pickles called umeboshi. Like many things in Japan , making umeboshi marks the passing of a season.

After washing the green ume, they’re put in a stoneware vase and sprinkled liberally with salt. Then a heavy stone is placed on them to squeeze out their juices in which they marinate for about two weeks.

The next step is to add freshly picked red perilla, or shiso in Japanese, leaves to the vase to add their flavor and color to the ume. The hard green plums that were put in the stone vase are now soft red umeboshi. Next, they’re put in a dry container, ready to be eaten or for aging to be eaten later.

Umeboshi are never attacked by mold or bacteria and can therefore be enjoyed for several years. One of the most- often packed lunches is a single red umeboshi placed in the center of a white bed of rice. It’s called a “hino maru bento” or rising-sun lunch because it resembles the Japanese flag.

My wife Kayo likes almost every kind of Japanese food, but if she could have only three food items from Japan, they may well be rice, soy sauce and umeboshi.

Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.

Source: Google News Japan | Netizen 24 Japan

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