Thursday, July 29, 2021

Nukadoko Progress Report: Adding the Infusion

Nukazuke fresh from the newly infused pickle pot.

From the very first time I mentioned an interest in starting my own nukadoko, Elizabeth Andoh offered to send some of her nuka paste for what she called an 'infusion.' She explained that the older, mature nuka paste gets added to the newer pot to lend a boost of energy, flavor, stability, and character or personality. Elizabeth also explained that while her infusion will sort of 'take over' the flavor of my pot the two will eventually meld. An infusion isn't necessary by any means, as my pot would have continued to develop on its own, but it is nice as my paste gains a sense of maturity it would otherwise take an extended period of time to develop. It's also a way for experienced picklers to lend a hand to those starting out. 

As Elizabeth mentions in Kansha, pickle pots were once a common feature of Japanese kitchens, and it is not unusual to learn that a pot and its paste have existed for generations, most often passed down from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law; although, not exclusively. 

"The Andoh pot," Elizabeth wrote in an email, "was probably started by my mother-in-law's mother-in-law, which means circa 1895." Elizabeth, however, started her own pot in 1970 under the tutelage of her landlady, Eiko Ohta, receiving infusions first from her and then from her own mother-in-law in 1972. Her pot has since been divided, taken abroad, recombined, and shared many times. 

Elizabeth's infusion fresh from the refrigerator and bag.

When I opened the first bag of Elizabeth's infusion to see if it had survived the overnight journey from downtown Tokyo, I was surprised by its peppery smell. She warned me that if it smelled off or musty in any way not to use it, but the two bags of what appeared to be roughly two packed cups of nuka paste each were well bundled up and accompanied by a bounty of ice packets to keep them cool. Her infusion was also paler in color than the nutty brown of mine (see top photo), and the texture was definitely more paste - wet but not sopping - than my damp, still somewhat coarse nuka.

As advised, I tipped in one bag and thoroughly mixed it with my paste. The texture of my pot became wetter and more paste-like as I kneaded and flipped, the peppery scent rising up. I then set in a lightly salted whole cucumber. Elizabeth suggested waiting about six to seven hours for it to pickle before doing a taste comparison. The temperature was about 84°F (29°C) and 58% humidity. My device said it felt like 91°F (33°C), which was true even with the nice breeze passing through the kitchen.

A cucumber-turned-pickle atop my freshly infused nuka paste.

The resulting pickle was a bit peppery and sour, flavors reflective of the melding underway, and generally more complex and nuanced than any of my previous pickles. (Think undertones and hints rather than simply 'sour.')

I set in another whole cucumber to pickle overnight - from about 10:30pm to around 9am - and found it to be, at least in this season, a bit too long for my taste. The color was good - green gone slightly yellow - and the inside showed definite signs of the bacteria working. The flavor was good but very pungent.

Pickled and pungent with friends, left to right, kombu, garlic, and ginger


"That's Japanese," said my friend, Mai, when I gave her a sample. (Her mother soon sent a request for a similar sample.)

Elizabeth reminded me via email that these longer-pickled veggies are known as furuzuke which literally translates as 'old pickles.' They seem to be a favorite with friends and neighbors out my way, but that is a topic for another post.

I set in another cucumber to see how things would go and took it out around 2pm. That day was full sun, and the heat settled in the house. The temperature when the cucumber went in that morning was 80°F (26°C) and 64% humidity. There was no breeze, and the air felt heavy. The resulting pickle was like the first one post-infusion: peppery and flavorful but not pungent. The cucumber itself was a vivid, polished green and the inside had a few 'watery' spots. The texture was a bit crunchy with the right amount of give. For my palette, this was a perfect pickle.

The perfect pickle...thus far.

Two days after the first infusion, I took the second bag from the refrigerator where it had been awaiting its opportunity since arriving from Tokyo and added it to the pot. At 11:03am, the temperature was 85°F (29°C) with 61% humidity that made it feel like 91°F (33°C). The scent emanating from the pot was still peppery but intensely sour, which Elizabeth assured me signaled busy bacteria rather than doom. 

"That's a good sign," she wrote. Another salt-rubbed cucumber emerged that afternoon around 4:15pm pleasantly polished and flavorful. 

Read more about my Nukadoko Adventures and get inspired to start your own! 



Friday, July 23, 2021

Nukadoko Progress Report: First Pickles and Infusion Prep



First nukazuke on the plate!

The Pickle Pot has offered up its first pickles! I'm going to say right now that this is somewhat addictive. I haven't been able to stop making and experimenting with the nukadoko. I believe has become something of an obsession. Everything I look at these days is assessed for its pickle potential. 

As Elizabeth was packing up the infusion of paste from her pot for mine, I was preparing to do up the first pickle. I opted for cucumbers as they are in season at the moment and my landlord neighbor had just dropped some off on our doorstep. It was a bit too long to lie flat in my pot, so I cut it in half, and as recommended in Kansha, I salt-rubbed the washed and smoothed halves and left to sweat for a bit while I removed the veg scraps. I also took this opportunity to add some kombu, togarashi (Japanese hot pepper), and a whole clove of peeled garlic followed by the requisite flipping, digging, and flopping to mix everything together. I rinsed the excess salt from the cucumber halves, put them in the pot, covered them with paste, and pressed it flat. I also wiped down the interior, rinsed and dried the lid, wished it luck, and returned it to its spot to see what would happen. 

This occurred around 11am at 83°F (28°C) with 65% humidity with both forecast to increase over the course of the day. It was time for all of us to rest in a cool, shaded location. 

First pickles fresh out of the nukadoko!

That same evening, around 8pm, I fished out the cucumber. It was definitely more flexible, and the taste was noticeably more sour on the ends that had been exposed. It was also clear that the bacteria had been at work on the inside of the cucumber as some spots appeared more 'watery' than others. At that point, it was 74°F (23°C) with 81% humidity. (See top photo.)

I have to say that I was terribly excited and immediately sent off photos to Elizabeth. There was a part of me that felt sure it wasn't going to work for some reason, that when I took off the lid the cucumber emerge the same as it had gone in, and that there would have to be a whole lot of troubleshooting, possibly even a hard reset, i.e. starting over from the beginning. The fact that I had real nukazuke in my kitchen felt fantastic.

Batch number two freshly emerged.
Kombu, garlic, and ginger alongside.

I immediately prepped another half cucumber from the landlord batch, trimming off some of the peel that was a bit scabby. What this meant, though, was that not only did I have an 'open' end on the cucumber half, but there were also some exposed places lengthwise on the cucumber. It was a recommended procedure on one of the websites I'd been reading about nukazuke, so I was curious to see how this might affect the flavor and pickling process. 

Batch number two of nukazuke!

The next morning, I found that the places directly exposed to the nuka paste - the open ends of the halves and the peeled places along the sides - were slightly more sour, but the taste remained mild. The garlic, ginger, and kombu were still present and not really changed. The garlic, in particular, looked as fresh as it had the night before. 

The nuka is definitely moving more toward paste, which is good news. It is wetter and has an increasingly pleasant sour smell. I am looking forward to experimenting with different amounts of time in the paste. Elizabeth doesn't recommend longer than 24 hours in Kansha, but I'd like to try something close to that maximum. I've got all sorts of ideas, but meanwhile, I feel like things are headed in the right direction. Soon the inusion!

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Nukadoko Progress Report: First checks

 

Dry nuka was not what I had in mind.


My first check on my nukadoko revealed...not very much. There was a warm nutty smell with a bit of spice; however, the vegetables hadn't broken down very much, and the texture didn't seem quite right. It wasn't the "coarse, wet sand" described in Kansha. A consult with Elizabeth, a.k.a. my Pickle Pot Advisor, confirmed that more beer was needed and to rebury the vegetable scraps to see what would happen. Other recommendations she had: add more nuka to increase volume; letting the veg "sweat" after being salt-rubbed before immersion in the pot. This draws out moisture locked in the vegetables, which in turn enriches and moistens the pot, and it makes room for the microbe-rich liquid that will be drawn into the vegetables. She also recommended keeping the liquid drawn out and add it, too, to the pot with the veg. 

I added more beer directly to the pot to adjust the texture and reburied the veg. A check on Day Three revealed a sweaty lid and a slightly sour smell. I flipped and flopped and scooped the nuka. I patted the top flat, but Elizabeth later told me this was NOT what should be done at this stage. It gets patted flat ONLY when actively pickling. When NOT pickling, a rougher, loose top is good as it allows for air to flow.

Sweat on the inside of the lid! Yes!

The next day the scent was slightly sour, and there was sweat on the inside of the lid. Hooray! I did the flipping, flopping, and scooping and left it to rest.

Concerned about rising temperatures combined with rain and fluctuations in humidity - anywhere from 70 - 97% - I replaced the veg scraps, letting them "sweat" a bit as my PPA recommended. Over the next few days, there was only a little or no sweat on the inside of the lid, but the scent steadily moved toward sour. There was no visible liquid, but the nuka was becoming damper and damper to the touch.

Ginger and veg hanging out, breaking down.

On my next veg switch, four days later, I added a hunk of ginger. I'd been re-reading the Kansha recipe (I assume I will be able to recite those pages by heart soon) and one of Elizabeth's recommendations for flavor and to offset sourness is a peeled hunk of ginger. I let it and the scraps sweat while I did the dishes and prepared a few things ahead of the heat for lunch and dinner. By the time I returned my attention to them, there was a bit of fluid in the bottom of the scrap-sweating bowl. Everything went in and got buried. When I checked that evening again, the sour scent was less and there was some sweat on the lid again. The veg looked a bit more wilted, as did I at 96% humidity after a long day.

The nuka had gone dark and began to get damp.

Since then, the nukadoko has been steadily becoming damper but maintaining its pleasantly sour smell. Three days later, I switched the veg once more. I've taken to double checking during the day now as the weather fluctuates between heat and rain, high and lowish humidity. I worry, but I'm also curious to see how the nukadoko faires in different conditions. Elizabeth is sending along an infusion from her nukadoko, believing my nukadoko and I are both ready, so here we go to the next stage!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Nukadoko is Underway!

Nukadoko, diary and ingredients


 My nukadoko is underway! Pictured above are the ingredients recommended by Elizabeth Andoh as well as the pot she helped choose and the diary where I'm keeping notes. (I totally recommend this as it is easy to keep a small notebook near the pot, and it doesn't matter if I get a few bits of nukadoko paste on the paper.) There are a couple of things Elizabeth recommended in a Zoom chat we had, which I'll include here, but the recipe in Kansha is super comprehensive and clear. I could definitely do this with only that book if I didn't have Elizabeth an email away.

One ingredient not listed in the Kansha recipe is the nukamisokarashi in the small green bag in the photo. The mixture contains a variety of items such as eggshells, karashi (mustard), dried citrus peel, togarashi (capsicum), and sanshou (Japanese pepper of the Sichuan pepper clan). Together, these add flavor, help stabilize the nuka paste, and repel insects. The kombu, ginger, etc., listed in Kansha will get added later, once my nukadoko is in full operation.

For now, the rainy season makes this an interesting time with its high humidity and increasing temperatures. The bacteria are highly energetic in these conditions, so the nukadoko must be carefully monitored; hence the diary to see what happens and how the nukadoko changes over time. Elizabeth recommended this diary, which I will base my entries on to track what I pickle, the time of pickling, temperature, weather, humidity, etc. All of these things will ultimately help me better understand my nukadoko and its workings. The observations and actions will also, eventually, become second nature of the care, feeding, and enjoyment of the nukadoko.

I should also add that I mixed everything using my bare, ungloved, washed-and-dried with a clean kitchen towel hands, as this is part of what will help give the nuka some of the bacteria it needs to get going. This literal hands-on technique will also be part of what gives my nukadoko its somewhat distinct flavor. Different hands, different houses, etc., result in slightly different flavors and profiles. (Fascinating, right?) Also, this helps me 'know' my nukadoko. We are in the early stages of our relationship, so for me this is part of really understanding the texture and any changes that will occur as we go along.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Farm to Door: Organic Vegetable Delivery in Japan

Pre-pandemic photo of Ome Farm at the UNU Market!

The pandemic has had a wide variety of effects, and one of these is that people have taken a greater interest in their food. Some of that interest sprang out of supply chain breakdowns and some of it sprang from the fact that going to the grocery store or farmers market felt risky. Farmers found themselves receiving an increased number of requests for their produce and CSA memberships. A number of folks expressed a desire to keep up these new connections even after the pandemic abated. Good stuff, if you ask me.

Here in Japan, farmer's markets have been canceled since April 2020 or so, and I'm avoiding travel as much as possible until I'm fully vaccinated. So, I thought it might be helpful to put together a list of these farms in one place so people could peruse as they wished and find what they wanted.  

Following is an alphabetical list of farms and farmers, their products, primary language, and links to their websites when possible. Offerings are organic unless otherwise stated; however, you should always ask to be sure. 

If you know of a farm or farmer to add, please let me know!


Base Side Farm

Located near Yokota Air Force Base, Base Side Farm uses both organic and conventional methods to grow vegetables including kale, beets, and popcorn (highlight!) year-round for delivery or farm pick-up. Contact via Facebook page or email.

English and Japanese ok!

Website: https://www.basesidefarm.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BaseSideFarm/


Biocreators

A group of nine Kobe-area organic farmers got together to offer customers a spectacular array of fresh produce, rice, and even flour year-round. Contact via website to order or stop by the Eat Local Kobe Farmers Market to chat!

Japanese only, but don't hesitate to reach out! They're terrifically kind.

Website: https://www.biocreators.org/


Kasamatsu Farms

Set in the mountains of Kanagawa, Kasamatsu Farms uses the principles of permaculture to grow vegetables and fruit (yes, you read that correctly: fruit!) and will happily send you some fresh eggs, too. Boxes vary in size and content, so peruse their website to see what you might like. They also have a lovely gift box option. Contact via website, Facebook, or Instagram! 

English and Japanese ok!

Website: https://kasamatsu-farms.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kasamatsu.farms/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kasamatsufarms/


Midori Farm

Set in Shiga but not terribly far from Kyoto, Midori Farm is a mecca of fun, community, and delicious vegetables. Delivery is local only, but farmer Chuck Kayser also organizes on-farm and online events that are always interesting. Check out the website to see about delivery.

English and Japanese ok!

Website: https://www.midorifarm.net/


MomoG Farm

Located in Nagano, MomoG Farm offers a plethora of traditional and modern vegetables, rice, and popcorn for delivery or pick-up at the UNU Farmers Market or one of the other markets Tomonori Nakayama visits. Contact via website or Instagram.

Japanese only! Don't hesitate to reach out, though. Nakayama will find a way to help you!

Website: https://momogfarm.mystrikingly.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/momogfarm/


Nagano, Naturally

Comprised of three farms near Matsumoto, Nagano, the trio of organic producers offers fruit, veg, and sometimes rice and flour. Vegetable boxes are available for delivery from somewhere in June to September or October. Contact via website to order. I will add that they are an excellent source for rhubarb! 

English and Japanese ok!

Website: https://naganonaturally.com/


Niseko Green Farm

All the way up in Hokkaido, this organic farm offers up tasty veg, a farm experience, and even a pizza-making option for those who can visit. Single and multiple-variety boxes are available May to October. Contact via website to order. 

English and Japanese ok!

Website: https://nisekogreenfarm.com/


Oishimon Farm

Year-round vegetable boxes are the name of the game at Oishimon Farm in Saitama. Boxes vary in size from small to large and are packed with seasonal goodness that includes everything from kale to beets (yes, you read that correctly) to tomatoes and Swiss Chard. Contact via website or Facebook page to order.

English and Japanese ok!

Website: https://oishimon.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Oishimonorganicfarm/


Ome Farm

Herbs, an assortment of vegetables, and honey can all be found at this lovely farm nestled in the hills and valleys of Ome. You can also find them at the UNU Farmers Market and a few other spots about town if you feel safe wandering over. Contact via website.

English and Japanese ok!

Website: https://www.omefarm.jp/


Pitchfork Farms

Located on Mukaishima, Hiroshima, Pitchfork Farms' fields not only offer up a wonderful bounty of vegetables in soil fertilized by sheep but look out to nearby islands for stunning sunrise views. Surely, this makes things extra delicious? Contact via Facebook.

English and Japanese ok!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pitchforkfarms


Shiga Kajiwara Farm

Also located in Nagano, Shiga Kajiwara Farm grows about 50 varieties of organic vegetables for delivery on a weekly or bi-weekly basis from late May to mid-December. Contact via website.

English and Japanese ok!

Website: https://www.shigakajiwaranouen.jp/


Sho Farm

Located in neighboring Kanagawa, Sho Farm offers plastic-free vegetable box delivery for those in eastern Kanagawa starting in May of each year of a selection of vegetables and eggs. Contact via website or email.

English and Japanese ok!

Website: http://sho-farm.sunnyday.jp/


Suirin Natural Farm

Suirin Natural Farm in Nagano uses a combination of organic and natural farming methods to grow roughly 100 different types of vegetables. Delivery is available from about June to December and vegetable sets range in size from small to large. Contact via website to order.

Japanese only! Don't hesitate to reach out, though. They are lovely!

Website: https://suirin-naturalfarm.com/


Tanaka Vegetable Farm

Located in Yamaguchi, Tanaka Vegetable Farm grows more than 60 different varieties of vegetables for their vegetable boxes. Size ranges from small to large, and you can arrange for delivery on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. 

English and Japanese ok!

Website: https://tanakayasai.net/

Nukadoko Adventures Begin!

 
The nukadoko Elizabeth Andoh helped me choose.


Introducing my nukadoko or pickle pot! I've decided to take the plunge and start my own nukadoko or rice bran pickle pot at long last. Vegetables ferment in a bed of nuka or rice bran, a leftover of the rice polishing process that brims with nutrition and flavor. The resulting pickles, known as nukazuke, are tart and flavorful as well as packed with B1 and E.

I'm using Elizabeth Andoh's detailed recipe and instructions in Kansha: Celebrating Japan's Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions to get me going, which has also resulted in the two of us making my nukadoko adventure into a project. I'll be documenting the process and sharing the wise words of my self-described Pickle Pot Advisor, Elizabeth Andoh, as we go along!