Ayako Iino learned to make umeboshi, or pickled plums, when she moved to a village in Chiba Prefecture many years ago.
There, every household would pick not-too-ripe fruit, salt and season it, then dry the plums just long enough to become puckered (in appearance) and puckery (in taste).
After 13 years in California and stints at culinary school and Oliveto, the Berkeley-based cook located the right plums in the Central Valley and is making umeboshi once again.
She sells them under the name Yumé Boshi ($16 for 8 ounces via Good Eggs). The difference between her umeboshi and the plastic-packed variety you find in Japanese markets is all in the nose. Red shiso leaves give the plums a lovely mauve hue and an aroma of sweet almonds and anise.
Take a bite of the soft pickle, though, and you'll find it anything but sweet--instead, it delivers a shock of salt and acid. "The simplest way to eat umeboshi in Japan," Iino says, "is to put one plum on a bowl of hot steamed rice as a condiment."
The Tasting Table Test Kitchen has concocted another: a recipe for congee with umeboshi, crispy shallots and chives (see the recipe). Hearty and far from bland, it's the kind of porridge you'll want to make all fall.
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