i have an abiding love for all things ume. like umeboshi: japanese pickled apricot plums, made with the ripened ume fruit. my sincere love for these ripe, pickled, dried, plummy apricots borders on addiction. on each visit to japan, i treasure my trip to the mitsukoshi food courts in ginza and/or ebisu. where i wander around bouncing from counter to counter, deliriously sampling a delicious variety of food treasures. i always always wind up at the umeboshi counter where i enjoy tiny samples of different pickled umeboshi, each with a different percentage of salt, some so sour your face forms a hardened pucker that may never soften; some so sweet they taste like candy. umeboshi keep quite well for many months in the refrigerator, thanks to their high salt content. the flavor of these little squishy jewels is quite pungent, so much so, as to make a small bowl of plain rice a wild and savory ride on a flavor roller coaster. incredible, i tell you, and truly ridiculously delicious.
i also love everything made with these mysterious ume fruits, often called plums, but actually sort of an apricot. right now i am making homemade japanese plum wine. a sweet and fragrant concoction i hope will deliver us through next winter, especially if it is anything like this winter, with it's completely ridiculous amount of snow. only meticulous planning and true love can get you through a winter like that.
umeshu, or japanese sweet plum wine, is made with the unripe version of ume, known as aoume. the process takes a while. slowing things down quite a lot, i present to you the longest recipe ever to appear on cup and table:
umeshu sweet plum wine
1 1/4 pounds aoume, fresh, unripe japanese apricot plums,
available in june, washed, stem bits completely removed
3/4 lb organic granulated sugar
good quality vodka 750 ml
1 Liter jar, sterilized
6 months time
wash the aoume. carefully removing any bitter, woody stem pieces. place in jar. pour sugar over the fruit. pour vodka over the sugar and fruit. give a good stir. come back tomorrow and stir again. do this each day for a week. then, summoning all your patience, place jar in a cool, dark spot in your kitchen or pantry. come back in 6 months, on the darkest day of winter. open, pour, sip. sweet memories of spring come rushing back, as if, from a dream. i like the idea of these aoume steeping and marinating, becoming more delicious each passing hour, and turning into unctuous umeshu.
note: aoume are completely inedible in this unripened state, and only become edible when preserved over several months. you could begin to drink your sweet plum wine after as few as 3 months, but it is best after 6 months.
if you'd like to wander through the food court of mitsukoshi ginza yourself, check out this youtube video clip of just that. though i give you fair warning, you might get curiously hungry and start googling airfare to japan.