Putting up the umeshu

Umeshu, usually translated as “plum wine,” is a Japanese liqueur made with ume plums. It is a very smooth, sweet drink that is marketed mainly to women, but I don’t know anyone who dislikes it. Numerous commercial varieties are available, and many people in Japan also make their own at home.

Late last summer, we tasted some that friends had been aging for over a year. It was rather dark, and its flavor included hints of cinnamon, clove and pepper in addition to the usual sweetness. They hadn’t done anything special in making it; it just happened to turn out that way. Who knows why?

Intrigued, I decided that we had to make our own umeshu. The fruits were out of season by then, but they are finally falling from the trees again (and turning up at the supermarket).

And so here at last are the beginnings of an umeshu adventure:

First, we soaked the ume in water for a couple of hours. This could have been as long as all day or overnight.

The necessary materials are pretty simple: ume plums, rock sugar, "white liquor" and some large storage jars. Supermarkets in Japan stock all of these things this time of year. The cheapo white liquor we bought, one of several brands sold in cartons, came with recipes for a variety of fruit liqueurs -- even garlic liqueur. Sounds interesting, but we'll stick with ume for now.

When the ume had finished soaking, we picked out the stumps of their stems, and wiped the fruit clean with a towel.

The ume in the top row still have their stems; those in the bottom row have been cleaned. They are as small and hard as new potatoes.

After rinsing the storage jars with hot water, we filled them with ume and rock sugar, alternating the ingredients in layers.

Then we poured an entire carton of 70-proof white liquor into each jar. (Do I look a little too happy here?)

This looks good enough to drink -- but it's not ready yet. After sealing the jars and labeling their lids with the date, we put them away in a cool, dark place (under the kitchen sink) to age for at least 2-3 months or up to a year or more. Check back on this blog later to see how it turns out. We will drink no umeshu before its time.

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