Ume - The Symbol of Spring
Despite the global crisis with Covid 19 time continues to move on. It’ll be spring for some soon and with that the awakening of nature through snow melting, fishermen heading out for their quiet time for themselves or flowers and trees start blooming in your neighbourhood. Normally we as human beings cannot wait to socialize and head out to nature to enjoy and cherish the nature change and store our winter clothes.
In Japan, Ume or Japanese plum trees are the first trees to bloom and for that reason, they have become the symbol of spring. The Ume fruit is well known around the world through two main ways of processing them, one that is infusion in Shochu known as Umeshu as well as Umeboshi, the delicate salt pickled sour plum. Have you heard about them? If not, no worries, we will introduce you to it.
Ume is also known under the following names Chinese plum, Japanese plum, Japanese apricot or Korean green plum. It is a fruit of a fruit tree called Prunus mume which is a very distinct type of tree related to plum and apricot trees. Its origins trace back around the Yangtze River into South China where it was later introduced to Japan, Taiwan, Korea and other countries.
The tree is well regarded for its beautiful flower blooming with leaves coloured in various shades of white, pink and red which are celebrated in poetry and through many paintings. Its fruit ripens in early summer during the rainy season. The stone fruit skin turns yellow sometimes with red blush marks. When Ume ripens its flesh turns yellow.
The Ume fruit is differently processed from beverages, like sour plum juice to smoked salty juice or into teas, plum sauces or as a sugar substitute. Plum wine or liqueurs are popular across Japan, Korea, Taiwan or China with a slight difference in production.
The pickled and preserved plum recipes vary based on parts of each country’s culinary traditions, however the difference is not that big. For example in China, the pickling process varies from salty and sour, sweet-salty and herbal recipes of dried or wet varieties of pickling. The Japanese recipes are similar to the Chinese with the addition of purple shiso as natural colouring and flavouring.
As it is fairly hard to get fresh Ume, I love to work with Umeshu. Umeshu is made by steeping Ume, rock sugar in Shochu for a period of 4-6 months before it is ready for consumption. The different recipes of Umeshu showcased through brands provide you with a variety of plum flavours for different occasions.
The sour-ish Umeshu is a great base for low abv highball (spirit and soda mixed together) as a great refreshing palate cleanser.
The sweeter Umeshu is an amazing replacement for port wine and or sweet sherry wines while serving cheese platters. I also love them served as a digestive over ice on its own.
40 ml Havana Club 3 year old (or any other dry Spanish style rum) 30 ml Umeshu (sweeter style) 10 ml Fresh Lemon juice 10 ml Sugar Syrup 10 Mint Leaves (can replace with fresh Shiso leaf, if you have them)
Bruise the mint leaf in your hands and put into the glass
Pour the rest of the ingredients into the glass, add crushed ice, stir properly to mix all ingredients together.
Add more crushed ice and garnish with mint spring and lemon zest.
Serve with a metal or glass straw.
30 ml London Dry Gin (I like to use fruity, citrusy styles of gins such as Beefeater, Sipsmith, Portobello) 20 ml Umeshu 10 ml Sweet Vermouth (A lighter red vermouth like Martini Rosso, Cinzano will work well) 15 ml Campari
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass over ice and stir 10 times.
Strain into rocks or whisky glass over ice and garnish with dark chocolate.