What's in Season at the Farmers Market: Last Week for Ume Plums
Ume plums from K&K Ranch at the Hollywood market
Louis Anderman, owner and chief blender of Miracle Mile Bitters, walked up to Terri Kashima of K&K Ranch a couple of weeks ago at the Hollywood market and bought her entire, but diminutive, box of Ume plums. That box had only around 10 pounds of the green and fuzzy plums, but it contained Kashima's entire harvest for the week -- and it was gone before 9 a.m. Ume plums may not bring in the masses, but the few who crave their unique sourness, or the salty tang of preserved umeboshi, snag every last fruit they can find during their super short season.
The fuzzy exterior belies the name. The Ume plum is actually an apricot. Very few orchards have Ume trees -- Kashima's still exist thanks to her grandmother, who made umeboshi every year -- so when you find one, make nice and arrive early. This will likely be the last week for the fruit until next year and demand is high.
Anderman predicts the bitters while take the summer to complete. "About three to four months," he said last week. It's just as well -- Ume plums make lemons seem sweet. They shouldn't be eaten raw and require thorough processing -- either via extraction, pickling or fermentation (into plum wine, for example) to keep them from cramping up your stomach.
If you've never made umeboshi before, then find someone who has. The process involves two stages -- pickling in salt and drying in the sun -- and can take two to three months. Recipes vary from family to family and are largely remeasured each year according to the quality and size of the plums. The traditional red coloring of umeboshi comes from red shiso leaves that are incorporated in the pickling stage.
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