SOK is back…with a toast!

12 Apr

I’m finally back from my trip to Tokyo! (I think readership of SOK actually went up while I was gone; I had more hits in March, when I hardly posted at all, than any other month.) Let me first offer a belated birthday toast to my grandma, who turned 97 this year. Pictured above is her homemade plum wine, or umeshu in Japanese.

Now, you may have encountered plum wine at your local Japanese eatery, in which case you probably think it’s some syrupy concoction with a weirdly tart fruit flavoring. Homemade plum wine is more like a fruit brandy, and it gets better with age. My grandma has been making plum wine since…I really have no idea, but I think we once unearthed a bottle from the 1970s. (The bottle above is from her 1998 batch, one year after my high school graduation.) The method is simple: take unripe ume (Japanese plums) and steep them in shochu (a Japanese distilled liquor, similar to the Korean soju or vodka) and rock sugar for at least a year, if not longer. My grandma doesn’t go so far as to distill her own shochu, but she does use plums from her garden. (By the way, these preserved plums are delicious in their own right. Lately my grandma has been turning them into jam, a hobby of hers.) My mom and I drink it straight as a dessert wine, but as a kid (like junior high to high school) I would get a wee dram watered down with, well, water (iced in the summer, hot in the winter).

As I mentioned, the flavor improves with age. We’d had a 2007 the night before, and it was still quite sharp. The 1998 was a lot more mellow, and had an almost caramel finish. Ume plums are quite sour, so even though umeshu is a sweet liqueur, there’s a distinctive tart flavor that compliments the fruitiness.

If you’re not as fortunate as I am to have a umeshu-making grandma, I suggest tracking down some green (as in unripe) plums to make some for yourself. You’ll never go back to the commercial stuff again.

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One Response to “SOK is back…with a toast!”

  1. Nate @ House of Annie April 12, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    Amazing, and compelling. I wish we were back in the Bay Area where stonefruit is so abundant. Until then, we’ll just have to make do with our Choya umeshu.

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