Ume-Shigoto Part 1

There is a phrase in Japan called “Ume shigoto”. This phrase translates to Plum works. Ume meaning Plum and shigoto meaning work.

After the sakura sheds in mid April, we are just about to enter into one of the best season in Japan, May. The night are is not as chilly anymore, the air is dry and not so much rain. It is a perfect weather to go on a short trips, doing sport activities outdoor or just plain window shopping. But we amateur cooks also know that the plum season is around the corner.

In these modern days, we can get any vegetable on any season. We do our best to eat seasonal vegetables but still may pick some tomatoes in the cold winter days yearning for the summer to come soon. This doesn’t work for the plums. Plums are only in markets around May till June and when they are gone, they are gone. You will have to wait another year to get a hand on it.

When we enter into May, we will start thinking of what kind of Ume shigoto shall we pursue this year? There are lots of plum related preservatives and a lot of household have there staple. This year I toned down my urge to prepare lots and decided to prepare just two. One is pickled green plum in a traditional Korean way (My first time) and Ume-boshi, a Japanese pickled plum which is our essential in our pantry.

From today, I would love to share my experience in pickling plum the Japanese way in three parts. Part one is about selecting the correct plum for pickling to salt pickling the plums. Part two will be about drying out the pickled plums after the monsoon season is over and part three will be about keeping them and how we enjoy these sour food!

Depending on the type of preservative you are preparing, the ripeness of the plums alter. For Umeboshi, the riper the plum, the softer the result you will get. Hard, tough Umeboshi is a disaster. It is quite painful to eat a hard super sour Umeboshi, so your goal is to get hands on the yellow plums.

There is one problem about this. Yellow plums are very delicate. You can damage the plum with bruises and that can make the further pickling process difficult. Bruised plum may mole during the process so we should carefully avoid it, but how? Buy the plums when they are still green, just about to turn yellow and let them ripen in your house. I usually order the plum for umeboshi and the farmer will send a slightly ripen ones so I can spread them out on a tray and let them slowly ripen. This way you can handle them carefully rather than transporting the fully ripen ones that will 100% damage. (When the ripen plums are bruised, we won’t pickle them but regretfully turn them into Ume Jam. Which are also good!)

You can see in the picture above how the color darken by letting the plum ripen them at home. The bottom ones are dark yellow and ready for pickling. (No appointment during the Umeboshi making because the timing is very important, once the plums are too dark, it is also problematic.)

1) Preparation for the plums. You would need to wash the plums in cold water. Slowly sink them in a large bowl and lightly wash them. Pat dry excess water from the plum.

2) Remove the stem by using a tooth pick by slowly lifting the dark wooden cap and discard them. (You can check our instragam reel post from June 26) If you see some water pat them dry. Check the plum one by one if there are any bruises. (slightly bruises ones are okay but if the skin are torn off, let them out of the group.

3) Prepare a large bucket that will fit all the plums in. This year I made 6 kg. I prepared 1.2kg of salt, about 10kg of weight to weight the plums down.

4) The bucket which you are pickling the plum are disinfected but just in case, spray some white liquor ( 45% alcohol ) and pour some salt in to the bucket.

5) As you add the plums into the bucket, spray the alcohol on to it, and layer the plum with salt. It should be like, plum then salt then plum onto repeat and if you have some salt left in the bowl, pour it all into the bucket with the plum.

Please excuse my bad memo but the above drawing says I used 6kg of Plum, 1.2kg of salt (20% of the weight of the plum and alway natural sea salt). The drawing show how I stacked weight on the plum to encourage the plum to release it’s liquid….. In the large bucket, the bottom part lays the plums with salt. I placed a flat disk on the plum (you can use a large dinner plates) and placed a 2kg weight. On that weight, I had a bucket of miso (fermenting) which weights around 5kg and on top of it another 2kg worth of weight. The total weight on top of the plums are 9kg. They say that the ideal weight is double the weight of what you are pickling…( if you have a ideal weight lying around you house use it, if not try being creative like me! lol ) Note: I covered the whole pot with a large plastic bag to avoid dust and unnessesary things to enter the pot.

6) After a couple of days, the liquid of the plum released and eventually covers all the plums. When this happens, remove the weight in to half. ( I removed the miso pot and left the plums with 4kg of weight)

As long as the plums are sunk under it’s liquid, you are in safety zone. Keep it like this until the weather is hot and sunny ( around 30°c ) .

Congrats! the most difficult part of Umeboshi making is over. You have two more process to go but it’s much easier. (to be continue to Ume shigoto Part 2.)


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