Monday, May 26, 2008

Umeshu jam

Every spring when green plums become available, I make umeshu (plum liquor) by steeping whole plums in 30 degree spirit alcohol with sugar. I normally use the sugar from the sachets that you get with yoghurt. This year, I started using Okinawan cane sugar (kokuto) for extra flavour, and it's very good. This means that the following spring, I have a glass jar with very little umeshu in it, but a lot of alcohol soaked plums. Deciding what to do with them is almost as big a headache as you get from drinking one sip too many of umeshu.

In previous years I've put the old plums in with the new ones, but that just results in a build up of plums and less umeshu to drink. I've also tried eating the plums, but they're offensively alcoholic tasting. One year I put a load of plums in the compost and that seemed to work, although I'm sure it must have killed a few alcohol intolerant critters in the compost.

So this year, I looked around on the Japanese Web under "umeshu jam pressure cooker" and found some very simple recipes for umeshu jam.

The procedure is simple. Put the whole plums in a pressure cooker and add a little water. The picture below shows water up to the level of the plums. The missus suggested this was too much, so I poured half of it away, and it was still too much.

We have a super high-performance pressure cooker, so only one minute of bubbling on the hob was required.

After the pressure dropped, I opened the cooker and found that the fruit of the plums was much loosened from the pits. Squeezing the plums between big cooking chopsticks, I got most of the fruit off, and took out the pits (which will go into the compost). Then I simmered the remaining sauce/jam to thicken it, while stirring with a wooden spoon. Even after pressure cooking, it gave off a very strong boozy smell. Opinion was sharply divided along gender lines as to whether or not this was a good smell.

I used too much water initially, and since thickening it was becoming a bit of a bore, I decided to bottle the product as sauce rather than jam.

I dunno, this looks kinda yucky

It isn't an attractive product. The missus had her nose turned up throughout the whole procedure, and the young master noted that the finished sauce seemed to be full of plum skins. I intend to reserve judgement, chill it and have it with yoghurt. I think that, made with less water, a thicker jam might make the basis of a good Christmas pudding. At any rate, there's no shortage of umeshu plums to experiment with.

This jam is disgusting. On its own it tastes of nothing but alcohol. It has a very unappealing mushy texture, like all the inedible bits of fruit. In yoghurt, the alcohol taste vanishes, leaving only the nasty texture to spoil the yoghurt.

This concoction is going to go into the compost after a suitable period of quarantine in an open container mixed with some absorbent organic material.

Lesson learned.


stew said...

Great post! Well entertaining! I've got the same plums to dispose of, but I'll give the jam a miss. I was hoping they'd be edible as pickled fruit, but they're a long way from that.

I keep meaning to steep a load of star anise in the same "white liquor" but haven't got round to it. It only takes a month, apparently. It won't be syrupy like sambuca etc., but hopefully the taste will be an adequate reminder.

As a question, did you say once that you had one of them "can o worms" worm bins? Have you had much joy with it? Would you recommend it?

Rod said...

Thanks Stew.

Is star anise native to Japan? I have a feeling I might have seen it around in the woods. One of the 'aromatics' used in gin definitely grows here because I've smelled it and found the seeds in parks and even residential areas. A most evocative smell it is too. Umeshu can actually get quite syrupy, so you might end up with something fairly close to sambuca. Note: Star anise probably also makes lousy jam.

I do have a Can O Worms, and I intend to do a post on it soon. It's a bit of a problem at the moment because it's infested with 'toilet flies' (I dunno what else to call them. They're stumpy little flies with short, rounded wings, that often sit around on the towel in the toilets of snack bars. They're slightly moth-like.) Millions of them rise up and land on you when you lift the lid. The Can is now outside under the balcony and is subject to all sorts of infestations. It was much better when it was inside in the shuttered garage, although it wasn't totally immune to flies there either. I'll take some photos and do a post next week.

I'd concentrate on building a nice 3-bay composting stall and encouraging worms that way. It'll save you time and money in the end.

Rod said...

Wikipedia says; "Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum), a similar tree, is not edible because it is highly toxic; instead, it has been burned as incense in Japan. Cases of illness, including "serious neurological effects, such as seizures", reported after using star anise tea may be a result of using this species. Japanese star anise contains anisatin, which causes severe inflammation of the kidneys, urinary tract and digestive organs."

Yes indeed, Japanese star anise would make worse jam than umeshu plums for sure.

Damian said...

Great post.

I wish beer was as easy (cheap) to make as this plum plonk.

We've been using a pressure cooker quite a bit lately. Its amazing what they do in a short time. One of our problems is a shortage of extremely poor quality cheap cuts of meat. Cant get old tough mutton, cant get off-cuts of stewing beef. In fact, I recently broke with my rule and bought imported stewing beef from Australia. What would be considered only one level above fancy pet food in Australia is imported here. And I stupidly supported them.

Rod said...

An American friend here makes very good ale and says it's easy, but it sounds a lot more involved than chucking some plums in a jar and sloshing ready-made alcohol on them.

The meat thing is difficult. I wish we ate less of it. There was a programme on NHK last night about global water shortages, and in importing wheat and beef from Australia, Japan imports the equivalent of an absolutely staggering amount of water. That's one reason why there isn't any left. Japan can easily (and will soon I think) increase its wheat production. As for your meat, finding a neighbour who hunts might be the answer. Boar meat is very good.

Damian said...

I'll hunt, but I'm guessing that gaijin-san doesnt just by and register a rifle and start hunting boar in the locla hills. If he can, then I will.

I am amazed that Japan imports water. I struggle to believe it. Perhaps I've developed a localised view of the rest of Japan. One thing we have so much of is water around my house.

With time I would like to learn how your friend makes ale. I have a history of brewing from home brew kits, but that's not really doing it from the primary inputs to beer. Though it drinks ery well.

We out some umeshu on today.

Rod said...

Japan doesn't actually import the water. But if Japan were to grow the beef they eat instead of importing it from Australia and other places, they'd have to use the huge quantities of water that those countries use to produce the beef. So effectively, Japan exports its water demand. Ditto with all the wheat it imports. It's no coincidence that all the places Japan imports meat and grain from are suffering from water shortages - those countries use too much to produce their exports.

I'll ask my friend where he gets his beer kits from and all the other details.

Naturally you can't just get a gun here. But there are people in rural areas who like to hand out game meat as a kind of patronage. If you want the meat and don't mind being patronized, it can be a good thing ;-> But I doubt it would actually be a regular supply anyway, so you'd still have your problem (until you get the goats going. I used to eat 'curry goat and dumplings' when I lived in the ghetto in Manchester. It was tasty.)

Damian said...

Water: now I understand. Japan is sometimes clever like that, and Australia kind of dumb - going for the seemingly easiest and most obvious primary product without assessing the wider cost and longer term implications. They are now building multiple desalination plants for drinking water at the same time as flushing toilets with the same.

Watching our umeshu age is boring compared to watching beer bubble away in the tank.

Damian said...

Rod - without pestering, do you mind asking your friend what size beer bottle he brews in? Many years ago I used 750ml bottles but I don't see them available here.

You see, I'd like to start emptying and collecting a good supply of empty bottles of appropriate size. Its a task I'm eager to start.

Rod said...

Damian, pester away, I'm sorry I didn't get down to it straight away. I've mailed him now.

He uses the standard sized beer bottles (633 ml) and he seems to have access to a lot of Super Dry bottles. I feel his beer deserves a nicer label, but he probably has better things to do with his time. I guess he must have a capping device of some sort, because the bottles are nicely capped. (I remember driving from Bristol to Wales with my friend's family for a cottage holiday with a plastic dustbin of homebrew on the back seat between us. It wasn't nicely capped and it sloshed around something awful on the mountain roads. We smelled like a really bad pub.)

Damian said...

Good, then I shall start drinking 633ml bottles if that's what I need to empty.

I had a great capping device: cap on the bottle, cap-clamping thing onto of that, push down on the two arms to close and clamp, open again... perfectly capped. You could probably crack a walnut in it of needed.

tom mccarthy said...

Good for what ale's ya.
(By the way I just eat the umeshu plums--like raisins with the added bonus of alcohol. Iʻm a simple guy.)

Ale is easy. Itʻs work, but itʻs fulfilling.

1. put malt syrup and about 3 liters of water in a pot. Boil 5 min.
2. add cold water to fermenting bucket and then add your malt. add more water.
3. let it cool a bit then throw in the dry yeast.
4. cover and let ferment for about 10 days-- the airlock should stop burping for a about two days at least.
5. boil 3/4 cup of sugar (I use brown Okinawan) in about a cup of water for 5 min. put it into your second bucket (bottling bucket)
6. siphon the beer into the bottling bucket. [leave gunk behind]
7. put the beer into clean bottles and cap.
8. wait (the hardest part) a month= good, 3 months = great.

Thatʻs it. Whatʻs hard? cleaning bottles is hard! Keeping things clean is hard! The buckets, the siphon tube, the bottles all have to be kept clean. Rinse most things with a bleach-water solution and then rinse with warm-hot water. [I wash the bottles one day and then sanitize them shortly before bottling] Donʻt forget the caps either. I boil mine for 5 minutes before I use them.

My first batch of beer was terrible because of lack of cleanliness-- I had just followed the directions and it had not mentioned boiling the bottling sugar or caps.
Some caveats/suggestions:
keep the cane sugar to a minimum, malt to a maximum. (recipes on the labels of malt cans beware!)

Keep it simple. Especially at first. If you want fancy get a malt kit and _follow the directions_.

I use large japanese beer bottles.

Most kits are not really clear about how far to fill up the bucket with water. You might want to fill it up once measuring the water and mark it with a permanent pen. [like when you clean it for the first time?] then when you bottle, mark how many bottles you actually filled, so next time you know how many to wash!

Donʻt worry too much! Nothing that grows in beer can kill you. Nice thought, right? Worry less, drink more!

Here is a place I found on the net after a quick search:

no recommendations.

The local supplier here has a bucket kit for half a batch (the normal batch is 20 liters) That might be a good place to begin. Moving two cases of beer is a back breaker.

Rod said...

Thanks Tom!

So the Okinawa brown sugar plays a significant role in the alcoholic gastronomy of brewers of many nations. Whodda thought it?

Damian said...

Thanks Tom, certainly more complicated than the supermarket brewing kits I used in the past (although similar). The wort came in a tin, the brewing yeast with it. I put the wort, 1kg sugar and yeast into the drum, sealed it, wrapped a heated cable around it and watched the thermometer on the side whilst it bubbled for 10 days or so. Then I added a teaspoon o sugar to each bottle and filled them with the brew from the tank. That was quite a formulaic method and it sounds like the local Japanese way allows for a little more variation. We had two 30 litre drums. This was in 1991.

You are right cleaning, it is paramount.

I'll start this in Japan once I get some space.