Every year in early June, after the last of the spring rains have fallen and the fruit of Prunus mume have begun to blush, we head over to the North side of town where a long time customer has a tree. Ume, the fruit of the Prunus mume tree, is commonly referred to as a plum. However once you hold the fruit in your hand and feel the soft fuzz and take in the strong sweet fragrance you might sense that this is much more closely related to an apricot, which it is.
The tree is small and sturdy. It is planted up against a backyard tool shed and with one of us on the shed roof and one on the ground we strip the tree of fruit, in one short hour filling two 5 gallon buckets.
Back at the Shop the fruit is divided into those that are blushing and those that are solid green. The blushing fruit is salted and used for Umeboshi.
The green are steeped in Mugi Shochu, a distilled alcohol made from barley, and mixed with sugar to create Umeshu. This alcohol maceration process will take the better part of a year.
The salted Ume are then packed into the stoneware crocks that we used to ferment our sauerkraut in, years and years ago. They are impractical for the volume we do now but we have kept a few around for small projects. We press the Ume by placing a plate over the top and weigh it down with a bag full of pebbles. We allow it to sit for several weeks to create a brine.
After a few weeks of pressing the Ume has released some liquid and formed a brine.We then drain the brine, setting it aside for later, and lay the Ume out onto racks to dry for about two weeks.
We add Red Shiso (Perilla frutescens) to the Ume brine. This is what gives the Ume its color.
After drying, we pack the Ume back into a crock and add the Shiso infused Brine. They will stay in this crock under pressure for several months.
Usually we allow our Ume to ferment under weight for about six months. After that time, we take them out and age them in jars. We have vintages going back to 2008.
So here's the question. Why are we not doing this with other stone fruit? On our list to try in up and coming years: Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Pluots, Plums, and Cherries