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Filed in: spring

Himono air dried Horse mackerel

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, eating, and working at home comes naturally to us. Beyond fewer outings for fresh fish and veggies, our routines allow for a sense of normalcy. 

Sansai season is drawing to a close with fewer wild vegetables to forage so to address the need for fresh produce but shop less frequently, we’re starting a garden. Nothing brings me more joy than growing food. But our migration between Japan and Maine makes gardening on any committed scale quite a challenge. We could grow a few things here in winter and spring but in our absence the garden becomes a jungle of weeds and vines in the heat and humidity of summer, and to reclaim it from the wild state it becomes each year fells like starting over every time.

Summers in Maine are great for growing food but the timing of our return and the location of our home precludes growing more than a few leafy greens. So instead I happily support local growers and cook with immense respect and gratitude for the work they do. But this year a return to Maine looks unlikely, so I’m reviving the garden here (with some major improvements) and preparing to plant several varieties of seeds to see what thrives.

We have an additional family member sheltering with us. Since passing his pottery studio over to his son nearly 15 years ago, my father-in-law Takashi, has been continuously traveling as a guest in studios around the world. He comes and goes as he likes which suits everyone just fine but due to surgery years ago, Kuniko has a compromised immune system, so as we prepared to shelter in place and reduce contact with the outside world, Hanako gave her father two options. She said he could stay home with us or he could keep traveling, but in that case he couldn’t come home at all until the situation vastly improves. He chose to stay. Which is to say we’ve spent more time with him in the last two weeks than we have in the last several years. 

Filleted horse mackerel

When we first decided to self isolate I instinctually reverted to my New England roots. There we preserve the late summer bounty in root cellars and freezers to draw upon throughout a long cold winter. I filled our freezer with fresh tomato sauce, pesto, and herb laden meat loaf ready to pull out and bake. But my in-laws might not make it through if we don’t have fish from time to time. Throughout their decades of marriage, Kuniko always made the vegetable dishes while Takashi, prepared the fish. Though renowned for his pottery, Takashi is almost equally famous for his homemade fish drying apparatus. It’s a humble wooden frame supporting two screens that sandwich a layer of chicken wire. Butterflied fish are laid out to be hoisted in the air for an afternoon of drying.

Takashi can’t visit the fishmonger daily as he otherwise would. So we decided to make himono, air-dried fish.Takashi ordered fifty horse mackerel but the fishmonger only had twenty. We spent the morning processing them, filleting them in two styles. The first is easier to execute and more visually striking. It results in a full butterfly from head to tail of a whole fish. The second involves removing the head and spine leaving a butterflied boneless fillet. This style takes a bit more effort but is a more economical use of  materials as the heads and bones can be made into a delicious stock for soup. We soaked them in salt water and dried them for an afternoon.

We’re eating very well, and when we eat well we are content. We’re wishing the same for all of you.

Fish drying apparatus

comments +

  1. Kate says:

    Very nice. I am going to try finding a copy of my book on soil sprouts for indoor salad gardening. It might be a great addition for fresh greens. Will miss you in Maine. Xo. Mama

  2. So glad to know that your entire household is well, and well-fed. One of the foods I came to adore early on was himono air-dried fish,. I am especially fond of sanma, though aji and hokke are on my top ten list. Your photo captures the essence of the process (and makes me crave some for myself). Stay well!

    • Prairie Stuart-Wolff says:

      Elizabeth, samna himono sounds divine! I’ll put that on my list of things to make when in season… stay well.

  3. Looks like you’re all doing fine! But we are very sad that we may not see you this summer. And kudos to you…not everyone can shelter in place with guests!

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If Kuniko, my mother-in-law, were to write the story of her life it might read more as a menu than a memoir. 

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