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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 […]
Chawanmushi with kinome and preserved sakura buds Summer has felt slow to arrive, but that’s just my impatience speaking. Finally the first warm night of the year arrived on the eve of May. I opened the window to listen the humming crickets and felt the nighttime air on my skin void of chill for […]
Himono air dried Horse mackerel There has been no mandate here but we have decided to implement stay-at-home measures. On the one hand so much has changed. Travel programs and exhibitions are cancelled for the foreseeable future as well as our annual migration to Maine. And on the other hand very little has changed. Cooking, […]
Preserving cherry blossoms for garnish The sakura will bloom again next year. With these words the mayor of Tokyo urged people not to congregate in cherry blossom revelry under trees in parks over this past weekend. It was part of a plea to the residents of her city to stay home and avoid all non-essential […]
Our favorite Tokyo chef returns to Karatsu My father-in-law Takashi has very specific and very good taste in food. He is what his family members call urusai when it comes to flavor, a word that can mean noisy or fussy. He isn’t fussy in the – I don’t like this or that kind of food […]
Foraging in Japan continues with tsukushi (horsetail) Foraging in Japan has been a highlight of living here and foraging in Japan. I find it no less exciting for the annual repetition. In fact it’s thrilling, this stretch from February to May, following the micro seasons of sansai, wild mountain edibles, from fukinoto (butterbur buds) […]
Spring fukinoto foraging returns! Spring fukinoto season came so early this year. The new year had barely dawned and we were already harvesting. Now they are already on their way out and today we ate freshly foraged fukinoto for what is likely the last time. After a weekend that felt like a preview to […]