26 July 2023
Ready for Hot Summer: Making Umeboshi (Pickled Plum)
That summer sunshine, the sweat pouring out and the hazy head, and the swirling dust.
This is a memory from my elementary school days, on the day of the school sports festival. Every summer's end, the school would organize a sports festival on the sandy playground. It was a comprehensive competition where all grades from first to sixth grade were divided into red or white teams by class and competed for points in various sports. There were activities such as tug-of-war, three-legged race, and group gymnastics. I wasn't comfortable being outdoors for extended periods, feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the unfamiliar heat.
After spending the entire day under the scorching sun from morning till evening, I came back home without having a chance to cool down from all the excitement. It was then that an unexpected craving hit me—a longing for my grandmother's "pickled plums," something I had never thought of before.
Writer and Editor
Owner of a cultural space in Tokyo with the theme of "Literature, Vintage Clothing, and Café." She has a strong interest in primitive art, contemporary art, philosophy, cultural anthropology, and discourse studies.
- Benefits of Umeboshi
- Day1: Let's Make It!
- Day2: Infusing Color and Flavor with Red Perilla
- Day3: Drying Plums
Benefits of Umeboshi
Umeboshi are rich in citric acid and malic acid, amino acids that help break down lactic acid accumulated in muscles. Fatigue such as muscle soreness occurs when lactic acid accumulates in the body, so eating pickled plums is considered a very effective way to recover a tired body by promoting the breakdown of lactic acid. In addition, Umeboshi contains salt and is suitable for replenishing salt after exercise.
Umeboshi was an essential part of the dinner table at my parents' house. Although I knew it was good for my body, I only felt the sourness and at one point I thought I might not like it so much. But the Umeboshis I had on this field day were different.
How delicious they were!
And I could feel firsthand how beneficial they were to my body and how they helped to relieve my fatigue. It was truly a great opportunity to enjoy umeboshi.
By the way, umeboshi are not only good during exercise or in summer, but also healthy in the long run. They are said to prevent constipation by improving the intestinal environment, promote weight loss and boost immune function, and have anti-allergic effects.
So, the embodiment of health, Umeboshi. I'm going to make them by myself!
Day1: Let's Make It!
This time, I will make two types of umeboshi: authentic salted umeboshi and slightly sweet umeboshi with honey.
Honey umeboshi has a unique flavor where the acidity of umeboshi and the sweetness of honey blend perfectly. The aroma of honey enhances the fragrance of umeboshi, making it even more delightful. Even those who are not particularly fond of regular umeboshi might find this version more enjoyable.
*When making plum syrup, we used unripe plums, but this time for umeboshi, we used ripe plums with soft flesh and a delightful fragrance.
- Ume plums: 2 kg / 70.5 oz
- Salt: 360 g / 12.7 oz (18% of the weight of the plums)
- Ume plums: 2 kg / 70.5oz
- Salt: 300 g / 10.6 oz (15% of the weight of the plums)
- Honey: 80 g / 2.8 oz (4% of the weight of the plums)
- Granulated sugar: 120 g / 4.2 oz (6% of the weight of the plums)
For the honey umeboshi, first mix the salt and honey together.
1. Remove the stems.
Remove plums that are too soft (spoiled) as they may rot faster.
Go to the kitchen and rinse the plums with water.
Gently wipe the plums to dry them slightly.
4. Let them dry.
Allow the plums to dry for a short period.
5. Place the plums.
Repeat the process of sprinkling salt on the plums, ensuring that the salt is evenly distributed over all the plums. The salt has a sterilizing effect and helps prevent the plums from spoiling.
(For honey plums, sprinkle granulated sugar on top.)
6. Fill a bag with water and place it in the jar (to be used as a weight). Store the jar in a place away from direct sunlight.
Day2: Infusing Color and Flavor with Red Perilla
What image do you have of umeboshi? Is it red?
Actually, the red color comes from red perilla, not just the umeboshi itself.
Red perilla is added for aesthetics, creating a visually appealing contrast with white rice. The red color is achieved through a chemical reaction between red perilla components and citric acid in umeboshi.
Besides color, red perilla adds nutritional benefits and antimicrobial properties to umeboshi. Perilla is an herb native to China and has been used medicinally for food poisoning.
Adding red perilla is timed when the plum vinegar (umeboshi vinegar) has matured, typically 3 to 7 days after starting the umeboshi-making process.
Now let's prepare the red perilla for use.
- Red perilla leaves
Prepare a minimum of 10% and a maximum of 20% of the weight of the plums to achieve a strong color and flavor.
Use approximately 17-18% of the weight of the red perilla leaves.
1. Remove the thick green stems and discard them.
2. Wash the red perilla leaves to remove any dirt, then drain them well in a colander to remove excess water.
3. Place the red perilla leaves in a large bowl and add half of the salt. Knead the leaves well to release any bitterness.
4. Squeeze out the liquid from the red perilla leaves, discarding the extracted liquid. Return the squeezed red perilla leaves to the bowl and sprinkle the remaining salt over them.
5. Knead the leaves again, and you will notice more liquid being released. Squeeze out the liquid once more and discard it. It's important to remove as much bitterness and astringency as possible by discarding the liquid.
6. Add about 200ml of the umeboshi vinegar that was collected from the Umeboshi container to the squeezed red perilla leaves and mix well. The vinegar will quickly turn red, indicating that a chemical reaction has started.
7. Spread the red perilla leaves over the Umeboshi and pour in the red-colored vinegar as well. Finally, use chopsticks to gently separate and mix the red perilla leaves, allowing them to blend well with the vinegar and transfer their color throughout the container.
8. Place a weight on top of Umeboshi so that they are fully submerged in the vinegar. Wait for the rainy season to pass (until the plums are fully pickled).
Day 3: Drying plums
1. Take out Umeboshi and place them on a drying tray to facilitate the drying process.
2. Arrange the plums one by one on a sieve and position it in a sunny spot.
3. In the evening, move the sieve indoors.
4. After a few more days have passed, flip the plums and continue drying them for several more days.
5. Once the plums' skins become soft after the sun-drying process, umeboshi is complete.
Making umeboshi with family, friends, or others becomes a fun activity with lively conversations. And it brings joy not only during the preparation but also until it's time to eat them. Observing the gradual changes in the pickled plums inside the jar made me look forward to going to work every day!
In the next article, we'll share our impressions after tasting various plum delights like plum syrup, plum wine, and umeboshi. Stay tuned!