Off-the-Eaten Path Food Experience in Japan. "Meet the People and Places behind your Plates! "

Friday 5 August 2016

Visit the ingredients (6) umeboshi, pickled plum in 5 lakes of Mikata

5 Lakes of Mikata are located in Fukui, 2 hours from Kyoto by train.

The path was once call "the high way of mackerel" in samurai period. Villagers in Fukui which is blessed with bounty of seafoods, take pickled mackerel all the way through the path to Kyoto.

Shince Fukui is one of the "Miketsukuni", the designated areas (Fukui, Awaji and Ise) to produce foods for the Emperor from ancient time, various preservation foods had been developed, which are inherited until now.

A 88 year-old obaachan (ground mother) taught us how to make umeboshi (pickled ume) for us.

She uses washing machine to knead perilla leaves for coloring plums.  For Narezushi, sushi seasoned with vinegared fish, she uses 200 mackerels and preserves in the wooden tanks. This is the classic village food tradition in Wakasa. We learnt their widow to live with nature.

Five Lakes of Mikata

It is said that the areas bestowed with good water source always produce good rice and rice wine. This maybe also true in umeboshi.

Two hours by car, Five Lakes of Mikata in Wakasa area is the exact place  to talk about blessings of clean water.

In the lake district, forest and farms spread over til the water ridge, dotted with plum trees.
According a farmer living in this district, Oku Mikata 奥三方 is the most beautiful place among the 5 lakes.

"Now, we will take you to our precious place"

Said Tagami san, a plum farmer who guided up.

Five lakes mixed with fresh and salt water, with diverse shade of colors, it is also called "five colored lake".

"Do you believe here are fairies. Normally, ordinaly people cannot come in without 'en縁' (special connection or fate in Japanese) "

Tagami san guided us to Lake Suigetsu, located further-most up country. It is said that Lake Suigetsu is double bottomed; upper part is fresh water and salt water flows into under part.

The ripple wave like ocean covered with trees make us excited.

This is the place, I can say...

At first I heard his story about fairy things with a grain of salt. I immidiately noticed this is the place. The shade of trees and ripples are drawn into the surface water, it is as oil painting, made me feel like as if I were in the world of picture.

Further along the lake side, we encountered the hidden farm.

along the lake path
hidden plum farm

As is often the case with rural country in Japan, because of aging society, there is always labour shortage problems. Also here, nobody can pick up the plum and majority of them were fallen  and rotten already.

I borrowed hand-made apron with big pockets for harvesting plums like kangaroo!

"If you come next week, all plums will be fallen. You came at the best time."

This year, many crops like wheat or tea grow faster than usual, so as to plums.

On the other hand, earlier is not always better. One side is good, and the other side is not. The warm whether makes crop grow faster, and cold winter can make the taste sweeter.

"How do you want to grow the plum? That's the question we have to think about. Do you want to make small but beautiful skinned plum, or bigger plum?"

said Tagami san.

Plums grown under the sun can grow faster and bigger, however, they grow dried and subject to get diseases with strong winds. With shade and less wind blowing, plums do not grow fast and big, but its skin will be beautiful.

Covered with forest in the Lake Mikata, the plums here are perfectly beautiful, and suitable for making umeboshi.

Lunch break under the trees beside the lake
There is a saying; in the year of monkey (ancient 12 zodiac callender), plums are failed. Due to the sacarcity of the plum in the failed year, umeboshi made in the year of monkey has a good fortune.

"This year is a monkey year, and many plum farms have a bad harvest, but we could harvest a lot in this farm"

I guess this is because of fairies living in this farm.

I am happy to make umeboshi harvested from this wonderful farm.

Learning how to make umeboshi from a grandma

88 years old obaachan (ground mother) showed me how to make umeboshi.

This is tarou ume, this is benisashi, this is heida, and here is ken saki...

She showed us umeboshi made from different varieties of plums, moving 15 kg wood barrel easily.

Benisashi is a variety of plum with half red colored indigenous landlace in that region and suitable for umeboshi.
Ken saki is for making umeshu, plum liquer.
Tarou ume and Heida are modern improved varieties.

We tasted different types of plums, and also plums made in different years.

Harvested plums were salted for two weeks and waters come from plums. Then, put perilla leaves for coloring the plums.

She uses washing machine to knead the perilla leaves!

Harvesting time for plum is around June to July. We also call raining season as "tsuyu" which literally means "plum rain".
You can experience making umeboshi this season. Please contact me if interested.