Saturday, July 14, 2007

Making Umeboshi

Ume is variously translated as "apricot" or "plum". The larger variety of ume is plum-sized but, unlike the latter fruit, not considered edible in its ripened state. Apricot- yellow when ripe, the ume is pickled, frequently with the deep purple leaves of the beefsteak plant (aojiso), to form the tasty but rather saline delicacy umeboshi, literally "dried plum". Umeboshi range in price from several dollars a pound to several times that amount. I typically garnish with umeboshi the serving of rice I take to work in my lunch box, and last year my wife and I decided that it would be economical as well as enjoyable to try pickling ume ourselves. The accompanying photos show the stages of umeboshi production: the soaking of the fruit; the removal of leaves and stems of the beefsteak plant from the stalk, followed by mashing of the same to a purplish pulp; the layering of ume and salt in an earthenware jar; and finally, the drying of the fruit and aojiso leaves several weeks later. Ume ripen in late June, and the pickling process requires 6-8 weeks. Our umeboshi should be ready at the end of August, about the time we are polishing off the remainder of last year's produce.