Umeboshi

Recipe 1

Recipe 2

Umeboshi is a pickeld apricot that's popular in Japan and increasingly in America. Most people have seen a tiny red thing in their bento-box that's extremely salty. That's umeboshi. However, the kind you make for yourself is different. For one, there's no red food coloring, and it's larger and more fleshy and gooey.

I'm fortunate because my mother planted an ume tree in the 1970s, and it's bearing a lot of fruit annually. The trees apparently live for a century or more, so it'll outlast everyone. It's a beautiful tree, similar to a plum tree, with a mixture of old branches and new branches. At the market, you can get ume for around $3.50 a pound. There are different varieties, and the most common place to get them is at a Japanese or Korean market.

I started two separate batches, and I'll describe the picking for each first, then go on to drying, which is still in progress.

The first batch was all green ume. These were cleaned and washed, and stems removed. All blemished ones were discarded, and the remainder were put into a plastic bowl and covered with regular table salt "until it looked like it snowed on them." (Yuki futa mitai ni.) Then, a plate was put on top (eating side down), and a 5lb rock was placed on top of the plate. The rock was just from the garden, and washed well. BTW, everything was washed then sterilized in a sink by filling it with hot water and a capful of bleach, and then leaving the bowls and utensils in there for an hour.

The bowl was left out in the kitchen. The liquid came out and eventually covered the ume, more or less. After four days, the stuff was done. I put them out to dry. Unfortunately, the second day was overcast, so I had to bottle the plums. You basically need four days in a row of hot weather, and we just slipped into an early July cloudy season.

I took each plum out and put it into a plastic jar, then covered the plums with the liquid that oozed out. There wasn't enough to cover it all, so I put some filtered tap water in until it was almost covered. Then, I took a sandwich bag and filled it with water, and put that on top to weigh the plums down. This went into the fridge for around a month.

The second batch was started shortly after the first one was bottled. This time around, though, I didn't have green ume. It was mostly slightly yellow, or turning pink. They were already falling off the tree too. So they had some skin damage, but more than anything else, they were already getting soft and ripe. (Note that these are not sweet fruits. They are sour.) So I did the sterilization thing again, and did the salting as usual. Then these plums were covered with salt but I didn't put as much salt in. I wanted a "lower salt" version. A plate went on top, and a rock on top of that.

This time, I paid less attention to the plums. Since I didn't have room in the fridge for more plums, I just left them out, figuring that the brine would take care of bacteria. I was wrong, and the plums went moldy. I should have checked them daily. I probably should have used more salt. Also, the skins broke as the fruit ripened and got soft. So the pressure of the plate didn't just press out the water, but caused the skins to get a little damaged.

So this second batch went into the trash. No big deal. The existing batch was fine, and aging in the fridge. It was a 2-year supply for me, because I don't eat too much umeboshi. This was around 1 pound of ume. Maybe a little more.

I didn't have any shiso (red perilla) so I didn't add those. I think the perilla helps prevent mold, and also gives it the red color. Without shiso the umeboshi still get red, but not the same bright purple-red. It's more like an orange-red.

In 2011 the hot season started on August 15th. That's when you are getting hot days in excess of 85F or thereabouts. You need four hot days in a row to do the drying. I'm reading up on drying in the oven too.

To dry I use the sushi rolling mat and a woven basket that I got at the 99 cents store. You drain most of the liquid from the jar, into a cup for saving. The end of the liquid will contain some dirt and crystalized salt, so you should throw that away. Then you pull out the ume and put it onto the mat. Put it outside for a day. At night you bring it back in. Repeat for four days.

I failed to bring it in on the second night, and the bottom of the ume got white with something. i can't tell if it's mold or salt. It doesn't taste like anything, but it bothers me. We'll see what happens when it's put back in the brine.

Otherwise, the ume are looking good, and the flesh inside is sticky and salty. Once it's fully dried and back in the brine, it'll be good.

Umeboshi have around 700 mg of salt per plum, so a normal serving is around 1/4 to 1/2 a plum, diluted in rice or on another food. I usually keep the other half in a bowl and use it another day. The thing is preserved and lasts for years.