29 Jan Stalking Spring I
Looking out on the bare branched landscape basking in the clear day’s brightness, it is easy to believe that spring has drawn back winter’s curtain in preparation for an entrance. But as we embark on this foray, a heavy sweater and down vest are barely enough to keep away the grasp of late winter’s pleading hands.
We are in search of Fukinoto, the early flower of the common weed butterbur. They tentatively poke sleepy heads out from protective leaf cover and herald spring. These early, shy flowers must be hunted with keen eyes peering under a tangle of winter detritus. First we spot the leaves, a heart of light green fanning from a single stem. There we hope to find a flower huddled in a blanket of decaying flora. They are the green of new beginnings, the only other sign of life in a still barren, brown landscape. Leaf, stem and flower alike are edible. The aroma is strong and basic, like the vapors of warm wet dirt on a sunny day. On the tongue they are bitter and earthy, the taste of spring breaking from winter.
The buds are best caught at a tender stage when small and hidden in a trumpet of delicate leaves. They are perfect in their entirety, lightly battered and deep-fried as tempura. For a mellower taste, make a paste of sweet white miso, a splash of stock and chopped almonds. Add blanched, chopped and wrung buds for a sublime appetizer.
The tender, young stems and leaves sauté beautifully in a veil of olive oil. And when the harvest is high and there are more than we can eat, it’s time to preserve. Blanched and chopped fukinoto combined with the holy trinity of Japanese cooking, stock, sake and soy, are simmered until all moisture has been incorporated. Stored in a glass container in the fridge, this fukinoto tsukudani will last may weeks and is the perfect addition to a bowl of steaming white rice.