Each day throughout the month of December, these citrus shells stuffed with miso and nuts have bathed in the winter sunlight, curing in the cold air until leather hard, ready to slice and eat. Yubeshi are prepared at the peak of the yuzu season, as November becomes December, to be ready in time for New Years. These savory citrus slices accompanied by celebratory sips of sake open the first meals of the New Year in the most fragrant, flavorful, and festive way.
The fierce winds of a typhoon brought down a bounty of chestnuts and we gathered baskets full. Most were still green so we let them ripen for several days on the deck. As I waited for the urchin-like casings to crack I researched the many ways I could use such a large harvest and made a list of chestnut focused foods to try. We feasted on chestnuts for well over a week but one dish wowed more than all of the others, kuri no shibukawani, a very Japanese take on marron glacé.
During a midsummer run of high heat in late July known as the doyo, the sun blazes and the cicadas roar. It’s a hot, dry (if you don’t count the humidity) interval between the tsuyu rainy season and stormy August skies seen when turbulent typhoons threaten to roll in. We rely on this clear stretch to set the salted ume out to dry, a process that tenderizes the flesh and softens the outer skins, improving the texture.
The days are growing longer and two doves coo in the evening air as I make my way down to gather a few fragrant fronds from our sansho tree. I fell in love with sansho on my first day in Japan, long before I knew I would come to call this place home. For years I have been dreaming of a little sansho orchard. Back in the kitchen I slap them between two palms to release the fragrance before laying them atop a steamed chawanmushi egg custard alongside preserved sakura buds.
As long as we’ve kept track of time, the day on which we reset the calendar has been celebrated as an occasion for reflection, for mental, physical, and spiritual renewal. Hemp fibers twisted into rope figures adorn the entryways to purify and protect the home. Inside decorations made of rice and boughs and bamboo, each with a meaning tied to agricultural rituals that pray for providence and abundance, are set out for display.
Drawing back a clump of desiccated fronds, I find an emerald trumpet of delicate leaves cradling a cluster of quilted button like buds. I raise the dirty, wet stem to my nose and drink in the earthy, pungent aroma of spring breaking from winter. This is fukinoto.
There is perhaps nothing more simple and divine at the Japanese table than a pristine bowl of snow white shinmai, new rice, to close an autumn meal. Like the wafer at mass, newly harvested rice speaks to the Japanese soul of the divine, of things both eternal and ephemeral.
Salty, sweet, or spiked When Kuniko moved from Ryutagama to Mirukashi, on the other side of the same hill, she took her ume plum trees with her. Two would be sufficient. She was 67, retired, and years beyond her former life as career homemaker feeding three children plus numerous guests packed around a 10-foot long table each night. She […]
Barracuda, big leaf magnolia, & sansho I am often asked what my favorite Japanese food is. I couldn’t possibly answer adequately. There are too many wonderful dishes. But I could say, without hesitation, that my favorite flavor is sansho. Be it kinome, the leaves, or sansho berries, the Japanese prickly ash tree produces flesh of primal […]
Treasures of mountain and sea There is fullness, a slowing down and settling in as spring gives way to summer. The frenzied pace of growth relaxes and days linger with us later. A keyhole through the black pines, mountain cherries, and angelica trees that grow behind the house allows a few piercing rays of the […]
An album of food memories Spring erupted prematurely with a vigor that felt almost desperate, as though the earth were breaking from the shackles of winter and running for its life. But it’s been said that perceptions reveal more about the observer than the observed. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling bound, shackled by […]
A prayer to humbly receive Each day dawns a bit warmer, burns a bit brighter, and lasts a bit longer than the one that came before. How grateful we are to be tilted towards the sun again. Spring sprints forward and she waits for no one. She’s on a mission to plaster the hillsides in […]
The dance of utensils, vessels, and food There is a pervading image of the Japanese table laden with small plates and bowls, each place set with individual servings of each course in its own small dish. Not quite as many appear at our table, and certainly never so many at once. The special relationship between […]
Bringing a wild harvest to the table The stately magnolia in the yard tracks the length of the night, the temperature of the air and the humidity of the soil around its roots, and when all is right the buds split and fat white petals unfold. This tree better indicates the season’s progress than any […]
Winter and spring in a single dish Snow falls as I slide containers and jars around in my refrigerator looking for a little inspirations. I think of the spirited plum blossoms in the orchard, seemingly delicate and frail but bearing the brunt of a spring squall with a grace and resolve I admire. As the […]
The birth of spring on the tongue My memories of Mirukashi begin in this season, with the first foray to gather fukinoto just weeks after moving into our new house up the hill from Kuniko. I was so completely taken with the little green buds we found that day that I followed Kuniko into the […]
In the end, a new beginning I immediately recognized in Kuniko the essence of the woman who nourished equally her guests, her family, and herself. Her meals brought such joy to everyone at the table, myself included, and I was eager to absorb everything she could offer. She represented a holy grail of cookery, a […]
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