“Peach-boshi” (Part 2) by Cynthia Briscoe
In a previous post, we discussed the idea of substituting green peaches to replace the ume fruit traditionally used to make umeboshi. Not too many folks have an ume tree growing in their yard, but they might have access to an apricot tree or a peach tree. A few Japanese-specific grocers may sell fresh ume fruit in June, but again, this proves to be an exceptional find and is most likely not organic.
When David and I lived in Kansas City, I ordered three ume trees from a nursery in Washington. The Midwest is actually not conducive to growing ume, but in my youthful enthusiasm, I planted them regardless. The trees will live, but very rarely do they bear fruit. Late frosts, common to the region, freeze the blossoms and consequently, no fruit will be produced that year. I found a good rule of thumb before planting an ume tree is to find out whether apricots grow locally, since apricots are the closest relative to ume. Also check with your Agricultural Extension Service concerning the growing success for apricots. Much to my chagrin, I discovered that in Kansas City, apricot trees bear fruit once every 7 to 11 years! So much for growing and making my own umeboshi in Kansas! Perhaps though, if I had been more creative, I could have made “peach-boshi”.
Here in California, our ume tree blooms in January. Our peach tree blooms later in the spring. It has never failed to produce fruit, but even here, the ume blossoms sometimes receive frost. Often the ume blossom time here corresponds with many solid days of rain, making it impossible for the bees to get out and pollinate.
Due to my love of summer peaches, it seems a little sacrilegious to pick all the peaches green. So I plan to pick some of the peaches while they are still green to make “peach-boshi”, and leave the rest to mature and ripen. Then I can enjoy “peach-boshi” and fresh sweet peaches, too!
Another necessary component in making umeboshi or “peach-boshi” is an herb called shiso. Shiso is also known as perilla or beefsteak. The purple shiso is the variety used to impart the red color to umeboshi. Shiso is very rich in iron and calcium. It also boasts anti-bacterial properties. Traditionally, fresh shiso leaves are served as a garnish with sushi containing raw fish, as it protects against fish poisoning, just in case the fish is tainted.
Shiso is easy to grow your own shiso in any climate. Seeds can be ordered online. Once you establish a patch of shiso, it reseeds itself and will return year after year. Plant in the spring and it will be ready to harvest in August.