I was struck by how quickly time flies. It felt like I had admired the ume flowers in bloom only recently, but the trees were now laden with plump fruit amid green leaves, all glistening in the gentle rain.
I started off by collecting fruit that had fallen to the ground. Then, I plucked off those that were still attached to the branches. My buckets filled up quickly.
I came home with my share of the harvest. When I emptied the fruit into a colander, their distinctive, sweet-tart fragrance filled the kitchen. Every year I smell it, I automatically associate it with the “tsuyu” rainy season.
“Ume shigoto,” which translates literally as “ume work,” denotes chores like pickling ume for “umeboshi” (salty and sour dried ume) and making “umeshu” (ume liquor). The expression is not listed in any Japanese dictionary, but it has a delectable ring to it. Around this time of year, many people enjoy making stewed ume, ume juice and a host of other homemade ume delicacies.
I used bruised ume to make ume jam, and set unbruised ones aside for umeboshi. I can only marvel at the wisdom of our ancestors whenever I check to see how much clear liquid, called “umezu” (ume vinegar), has seeped out of the fruit in the glass pickling jar.
As food, umeboshi is often seen as a symbol of ultimate frugality. But if you make it yourself, you come to appreciate its “depth.”