Thursday, 24 June 2010

culinary activity in early summer: “ume-shu” making


It’s a pity that the Japanese young of these days became unlikely to enjoy alcohol. Aah, don’t get me wrong. Alcohol can cause hepatic and brain-related damages, or in worst cases, ruin our life at all, I know. It is, however, true as well that the moderate intake has been playing a part in keeping our body healthy.

Japanese loves to not only drink but also make “fruit liqueurs” (kajitsu-shu, 果実酒) at home, do you know? Although it’s a cinch to buy the ready-made version in cans and bottles, many households have still been taking over this tradition from our ancestors for centuries. Homemade liqueurs are very rich in minerals as well as acids, and under Japan’s Liquor Tax Act, we’re allowed to use every kind of fruits BUT grapes (and grains) at home, for domestic use only.

A wide range of seasonal fruits (and vegetables occasionally) are picked up to steep in alcohol, best of all, Japanese plum-like fruit called “ume” (梅) is the quintessential ingredient used for homemade liqueurs.

Ume fruit liqueur, aka “ume-shu” (梅酒) in Japanese, simply tastes delicious! The sweetness of the sugar perks up the sharp acidity of the ume, conjuring up that of green apples. Enjoy this syrupy liquid with ice in a smaller glass as an aperitif, or make fizz topped with soda water in a tall glass for alfresco. Being rather girly, both are great sipping drinks in summer, I promise.

The season of ume lasting from late May to June conflicts with the rainy season in Japan. This is why our rainy season is known as 梅雨 (tsuyu), these Chinese characters signifying “ume” and “rain” respectively. Around this time of year, all we need to make ume-shu are assembled in one corner or just around the entrance of every grocery and supermarket to appeal around.

So, just prepare the following items at hand:
  • Fresh Ume Fruits
    While there’re various ume fruits suitable for ume-shu, “nanko-bai” (南高梅) from Wakayama pref, West Japan is among the finest. Ume used for the liqueur has to be “unripened” (ao-ume, 青梅). Covered with the green thick skin, or with scarlet to amber patchly, it almost looks like a baby Granny Smith apple.
  • Rock Sugar
    Japanese calls this “kori-zato” (氷砂糖) to mean “ice sugar” in the literature. It seems the most highly-refined form of sugar which consumers can get hold of. Lumpy in shape, translucent in colour, and fun to chew on!
  • White Liquor (ホワイトリカー)
    This is a sort of “shochu” (焼酎), Japanese vodka especially for making fruit liqueurs. Available in paper cartons, with an alcohol content of 35% which is required to bring about the healthy maturation.
  • Glass Jar
    Imagine a huge jam bottle with the capacity of several litters. It’s always surmounted by a plastic cap coloured with Christmassy “red” though the reason is unknown.

Nothing complicated in the method either. First of all, wash the ume fruit and remove the black stem with a skewer. Sterilise the glass jar and leave to cool whilst all the ume are dried out naturally. In the jar, then, place alternate layers of the ume and rock sugar and gently pour the liquor over them. At last, seal the jar and store in a cool and dark place. It’s ready to drink in three months, but the more the liqueur gets aged, the better the flavour will be as more than two years is my taste.  You can also eat the tipsy flesh of ume on its own, make jam, or simply throw them away.

This year, my family tried a new take because my mum got a more palatable recipe from a Japanese fine dining restaurant chef on TV. The rough measurement of his concoction is something like 2kg of ume, 1kg of fruit sugar in place of rock sugar, 1.8L of white liquor plus 1.8L of “daiginjo” (大吟醸), that is highly-refined sake. Well, our choice for this is “Mansaku-no-Hana” (まんさくの花) on limited sale, brewed in Akita pref. of North Japan.

The freshly-made ume-shu is now settled in its bed room to ensure a long, deep sleep. I just remembered one Japanese proverb: “good sleep grows kids a lot”..... and ume-shu too!!

58 comments:

Lyndsey said...

It looks lovely, I bet it tastes wonderful too! I love flavoring alcohol, so many good flavors and it natural!

Carolyn Jung said...

Thanks for the lesson on this. I see fresh ume at my local Japanese market, but have never known how to pickle them properly. It's nice to see it's very easy to do, too.

3 hungry tummies said...

I would love to make this but we can get ume here.
So I am going to just drink the shop bought one lol

the lacquer spoon said...

- Lyndsey, making liqueurs gives a soothing effect, I feel. Fun to drink and look at :)

- Carolyn, great to know you can get hold of ume fruits in SF! Yes, it's easy to make and so tasty :)

- 3 hungry tummies, oh bottled/canned one isn't bad. Ume-shu is quite strong in alcohol, so don't drink too much :D

Chow and Chatter said...

oh i love sake wish i could have a sip of yours Rebecca

the lacquer spoon said...

- Rebecca, yes I would like you to taste my sake, but wait for a year or so until the flavour is well-extracted ;)

Sonia (Nasi Lemak Lover) said...

homemade alcohol, looks good and natural. my mom used to do alcohol but using rice. Thanks for sharing.

the lacquer spoon said...

- Sonia, impressive to know about your mother! Something homemade makes everyone happy :)

BIg Boys Oven said...

wow I can even smell the freshness of this ume, thanks for sharing such a beautiful recipe, I just wish to sip into this drink one day! :)

the lacquer spoon said...

- BIg Boys Oven, thank you for stopping by! If you've never tasted ume-shu, have a try in Japanese restaurants. A summery breeze in drink :)

pigpigscorner said...

I tried this once and loved it! I have to look out for fresh ume and try this!

Bridgett said...

Wow, I am so impressed your made your own alcoholic drink instead of taking the easy route and just buying some. Impressive! I can imagine it will taste wonderful.

the lacquer spoon said...

- pigpigscorner, Ume-shu has hardly a recipe, simply mixing with some ingredients. Hope you'll try soon :)

- Bridgett, thank you! I also keep raspberry and plum liqueurs in my kitchen. Ume is the best of all, but very much fun to use diffrent types of fruits :)

Koek! said...

What a lovely tradition. I must say, I certainly don't have any trouble appreciating alcohol :-)

the lacquer spoon said...

- Koek!, good to hear that! Well, my dream is to make liqueurs with all the fruits of which I can get hold :D

My Little Space said...

Hi there, I hope I have a better name to call you than 'there'! Maybe your name? =o) I made this kind of liquer too but I used honey instead of rock sugar. The liquer became lighter than the one using rock sugar which I like the most. It does help to sleep well and also solving your bower problem instantly. Some called this as fruits cider! Who care what they call as long as it's god & healthy! ^_^ Thanks for sharing. Hope you're enjoying this wonderful summer time!
Cheers, Kristy

the lacquer spoon said...

- Kristy, I'm flattered to receive your kind message with lots of information! Please call me "Spoon" named after my blog title temporally until I open my given name to you all. Sounds a bit strange, but this is kinda secret blog cos none of my close friends have known my writing in English here yet ;)

I was silly not to trt honey for liqueurs! My three-year-old umeshu which is my current drink actually lacks the sweetness, so I'll add a spoonful when drinking.

You enjoy wonderful summer too!
Best, Spoon x

Little Inbox said...

Oh,m I learn new things today. Thanks for sharing the info.

the lacquer spoon said...

- Little Inbox, Happy to exchange our food culture! It makes us walking cookery books :)

TasteHongKong said...

I have enjoyed reading all the interesting details here. Thanks! I know people in Japan have been making great fruit liqueurs but just learned that you would do the same with vegetables.

the lacquer spoon said...

- TasteHongKong, vegs such as shiitake and garlic are used for homemade liqueurs occasionally. I don't think they please our taste buds :D, but some seem to drink them, expecting medicinal effects.

My Man's Belly said...

Saw ume plums for the first time this year at the farmers market. I didn't get any of those, but I got some middle eastern sour plums (Gojeh Sabz) and created spicy salted pickles using the Umeboshi technique. So addicting.

I thought about making my own version of ume-shu with them, but I didn't have the patience to wait for it.

Kitchen Butterfly said...

Well, I can only imagine what this tastes like (once its ready!) I just bought some umeboshi fruit with the red shiso leaves....and haven't used it yet! If I ever see ume I'll buy them!

Bo said...

I love to infuse alcohol with fruit. I would love to taste this. I bet it is wonderful. I've never heard of ume...it seem so exotic to me.

MaryMoh said...

What a lovely post! It's wonderful to make own liqueur. I have to try one day. My friends back home in Malaysia make them too. Thanks very much for sharing.

the lacquer spoon said...

- My Man's Belly, thank you for visiting. You know how to make ume-boshi, woow! Well, hope you'll also try umeshu-making in the future. We need patience to reach something tasty ;)

- Kitchen Butterfly, ooh you got umeboshi! It's utterly sour (though different from that of sugarless rhubarb..), but Japanese thinks the small quantity goes well with boiled rice. Enjoy :)

- Bo, welcome and thanks for your note! We don't eat ume fresh on its own as it tastes ridiculously sour. It's turned into a lovely drink with lots of sugar :)

- Mary, liqueurs are made at home in Malaysia as well! Wish I could treat you with my ume-shu in your visit to Tokyo :)

Magic of Spice said...

This is a fascinating post...Would love to try it. I have infused other liqueur but never sake

the lacquer spoon said...

- Magic of Spice, Thanks for stopping by! This is worth a try if unripened ume is available in your country. Japanese loves drunken fruits instead of elderflower cordial ;)

♥¸¸.•*¨Skip to Malou¨¨*•.¸¸♥¸ said...

thanks for the culinary lesson that you shared here. Your pictures are awesome and you definitely make it so easy to do. But I would love to take a sip of this sake, while we chat and share more (what else) but food haha!

Cheers!
Malou

the lacquer spoon said...

- Malau, thanks! OK, pls let me treat you to "I cook, and you eat and drink" on your visit to Japan :D

Good day,
Spoon

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

NIce:-) It reminds me of visiting my grandparents when I was young. They grew ume on one of their mountains and after harvesting, we'd make ume shu. I always loved helping because they let me taste the ume after it had been soaking for a while. I wish I could get ume in the US so I could try making it at home.

the lacquer spoon said...

- Marc, thank you for the note and sweet memory! Many are industrialised today and ume-shu is available even in conbini here. But hope the homemade ume-shu tradition will be continuous for good. Pls let me know if you find fresh ume in your city :)

mysimplefood said...

Lovely, Makes me want to try this one day. I wish I could taste it now!! :)

the lacquer spoon said...

- mysimplefood, thank you for dropping by! I'm sure you'll be tempted by the sweet and sour taste. Have a try it in a Japanese restaurant first :)

Stephanie Savors the Moment said...

Thanks so much for stopping by my guest post on Chow and Chatter! I just signed up to follow your fabulous blog - what a great post & so interesting! Stop by and visit me sometimes at www.stephaniesavorsthemoment.com! Looking forward to your next post - Cheers!

the lacquer spoon said...

- Stephanie, welcome and thank you to be a follower of my blog! Hope you'll continuously enjoy my post though it's updated slowly. Yes, I visit your blog too :)

reanaclaire said...

ume-shu.. over here, i heard of yomei-shu only.. i went to japan last year, i bought back a few bottles of herbs.. to sprinkle on the food.. :)

the lacquer spoon said...

- reanaclaire, thank you for stopping by! Oh, yomei-shu is medicinal, available in chemistries and tastes medicine no less :D

Hope you had great time in Japan, and enjoy some Japanese flavours with the herbs you got :)

Momgateway said...

thing I really miss about Japan is Ume-shu...I wish I could make them here in the US (not available in the Midwest) or just taste it again...the last time I had it was more than 15 years ago...can you believe that?

the lacquer spoon said...

- Momgateway, welcome to my blog and thanks for the note. You visited Japan such a long ago, wow! Well, things have been changing a lot, but ume-shu is a all-time drink, so no change, hopefully ;)

Chef Bee said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Plan B

the lacquer spoon said...

- Chef Bee, thank you for visiting!

Cheap Hotels Barcelona said...

just a great lesson...thanks a lot...

the lacquer spoon said...

- Cheap Hotels Barcelona, my pleasure. Glad you like it :)

SteamyKitchen said...

I love that you make your own ume shu!

the lacquer spoon said...

- SteamyKitchen, thank you for dropping by, Jaden! Ume-shu is a great drink especially in summer sunsetting to cool me down :)

Tokyo Terrace said...

I tried making my own umeshu just 3 months ago. Haven't opened the jar yet to try it because I'm trying to be very patient...I might last another couple of weeks before breaking into it. Hope it turns out! Yours looks great!

the lacquer spoon said...

- Tokyo Terrace, to sip ume-shu is so refreshing and seem to work better in this summer whose temperature is crazy! I'm sure your ume-shu tastes lovely after its good sleep :)

art hotel vienna said...

I'd like to have them all one by one.i'm dying to test them.if i can i'll made it at my home.

the lacquer spoon said...

- art hotel vienna, thanks for visiting and glad you enjoyed my blog :)

Indie.Tea said...

I dont really drink much either, but that 'ume-shu' might want to make me change my mind.

the lacquer spoon said...

- Indie.Tea, thank you for the comment! Japanese loves to make liquor by using seasonal fruits. Ume-shu is the best one and so easy to make :)

♥¸¸.•*¨Skip to Malou¨¨*•.¸¸♥¸ said...

hello,

thank you for being one of the followers of skip to malou. i just dropped by to say that my domain has changed to http://www.skiptomalou.net/ . i hope you find the time to update the link.

again thank you and i hope to see you stop by soon.

warm regards,

malou

MaryMoh said...

How are you? I hope you are doing well. It's a long time I have not heard from you and not seen any new post. I drop by to say 'Hi' and wish you a great year 2011! Please take care.

the lacquer spoon said...

- Mary, thanks so much for your sweet note! Pls find my DM to your twitter. I really want to send my new year wish to you :)

Warmest regards,
Spoon

the lacquer spoon said...

- Malou, thanks & so sorry for my late reply!! I've been away from blogging for some reasons, but how much I've been missing food bloggers like you...

I'll visit your blog soon, and wish you happy 2011 :)

Warmest regards,
Spoon

Quay Po Cooks said...

This so good to know how to make ume shu. Lovely pics!

Torviewtoronto said...

lovely site and pictures

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