The rainy season in Japan - Tsuyu (plum rain 梅雨)
Japanese islands stretch widely north-south and east-west and belong to the temperate climate zone. The four seasons are very distinct and the Japanese appreciate the sense of them.
Now, Japan is in rainy season, the beginning of which marks the end of spring. Two moist air masses (Okhotsk Sea in the North and Ogasawara in the South) struggle with each other on the Japanese isle in the whole month of June and the rain front brings extreme humidity. Muggy and sticky. Very unpleasant … I used to hate this season when I was in Japan and was always looking forward to the announcement of Tsuyuake 梅雨明け (the declaration of the end of rainy season) by the Japan meteorological agent.
Making plum preserves in rainy season 梅仕事
However, the Japanese doesn’t fail to enjoy even this highly uncomfortable weather. The rainy season is called Tsuyu 梅雨 which means plum rain (isn’t it a beautiful name?) because it is the time of the year the plums are ripen. People in Japan enjoy making many kinds of preserved foods using various state of plum (small, green, ripen, extremely ripen). Plum wine, plum jam, plum syrup, pickled plum, plum miso, plum shoyu, just name a few. And the time to make these preserves is fondly called plum works 梅仕事. There is a calendar called Ume-goyomi (see below) which show the timing of each plum works and appropriate state of the plum to be used.
Plum and Japan
Plum (Ume) has deeply rooted in Japanese history. There are numerous historical artworks such as Ukiyo-e and Kabuki using plum as motif. Likewise many famous haiku-poems focus on plums. These show how much Japanese has been cherishing plums in their lives from old times. I can imagine that women in small villages got together and enjoyed plum works while socialising in the rainy season when other activities were restricted. Thinking this way, I even feel nostalgic toward the rainy season which I hated while I was in Japan.
Plums are very nutritious as well. It contains many kind of organic acids, especially citric acid which helps you to recover from fatigue. They are rich in mineral (especially iron) and full of antioxidant (Vitamin E and Polyphenol). So it is not hard to imagine that plums was valued as a food source.
Plum works with Iranian green plums
To be honest, I haven’t done much plum work apart from plum wine up until now, partially because the same or even similar kind of Japanese plum are not available here in UK. However, last year in the desperate attempt to save my own sandan (three-phased) sake last year, I made use of the green Iranian plums I bought at a halal shop nearby. One year on, for my pleasant surprise, I found they did a very good job (I will write a separate post about this). I now know that not doing plum works because of unavailable plums is nothing but an excuse.
So this year, I gave it a go for some new plum works with my good friend hakko.online who lives in LA, USA (thanks ZOOM for making this possible!) and kindly gave me a lecture and guidance to do my new plum works. What a fun! We had fabulous time chatting and working. Plum works we did together are plum jam, plum miso and pickled plum. I am certain that the fun time we had together and positive energy we produced will give extra flavor in our plum ferments!