We have entered the micro-season of “The Plums Turn Yellow”. This is the third micro-season of the mini-season of Grain in Ear. The other micro-seasons within Grain in Ear are:
- The Praying Mantis Hatches (Jun 5 – Jun 9)
- Fireflies Rise from the Rotten Grass (Jun 10 -Jun 15)
- The Plums Turn Yellow (Jue 16- Jun 20)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
As a way to celebrate this season, we will look into the ume tree, some culinary uses for ume, and read ume-inspired haiku by Kobayashi Issa, Yosa Buson, and others.
This Plum Is An Apricot
This micro-season is referring to the yellowing of the fruit of the ume.
Ume is the Japanese name for a flowering, fruit-producing tree with the scientific name of Prunus mume. The Prunus mume is more commonly known as the Chinese plum, Japanese plum, and Japanese apricot.(1)
Although ume is often translated into English to mean “plum”, this tree is more closely related to the apricot than it is to the plum.(2)
There are over 300 hundred varieties of Prunus mume that are separated into two categories: mi-ume and hana-ume. Trees in the mi-ume category produce fruit that is good to eat. Trees in the hana-ume category, however, are grown for their beautiful flowers.(2)
In China and Japan, the Prunus mume begins to bloom in mid-January and will continue flowering through February. The flowers are about an inch in diameter and may be white, pink, or red.(1)
The fruit of the Prunus mume begins to develop shortly after the flowers drop. The ume will grow through early spring and then ripen in June and July. The ripening of the fruit coincides with the beginning of the rainy season in China and Japan. The rainy season is also known as meiyu, or plum rain.(2)
Culinary Uses of the Ume
The ume has a few culinary uses. The flowers can be harvested and added to cakes known as maehwa-jeon, or “plum blossom pancake”.(1) Once the flowers have passed and the fruit has grown, the options for ume expand to include juices, teas, wines, and pickled products.
Umeshu, or plum wine, is a Japanese liqueur made from steeping the ume in Shōchū, a Japanese white liquor, and rock sugar. The recipe for umeshu is pretty simple. You just combine these three ingredients, seal them in a glass jar for a year, and then you have your very own umeshu!
Here are two good recipes that you might want to check out if you are interested in making your own.
Umeboshi, or pickled plums, is another traditional Japanese recipe using ume. Umeboshi is described as having a salty and sour taste.
To make umeboshi you need salt, ripe ume, red shiso leaves, and a large container to hold all the ingredients. Shinso is a plant in the mint family and the red leaves are used to give the umeboshi its reddish color. It takes about a month to prepare umeboshi. Below are a couple of recipes that will show you how to do this:
Umeboshi is high in citric acid and is said to be good for health. Some benefits include stress relief, restoring energy, preventing heat stroke, and reducing weight gain.(2,4)
Plums in Haiku
In haiku, the plum blossom is considered a spring kigo or seasonal word. The green plum tree, the ripe plum, and the dried plum, I think, would be considered variations of a summer kigo. The pickled plum, based on an upcoming haiku by Issa, may be considered an autumn kigo. However, I have found some resources that say the pickled plum is a summer kigo. I guess there might be some room for discussion on this one.
The following collection of haiku let us see how the plum’s lifecycle is reflected in seasonal haiku.
even the heavenly gods crowd' round plum blossoms -Kobayashi Issa
My two plum trees are so gracious . . . see, they flower One now, one later -Yosa Buson
one plum blossom brings us just one more step to the warmth -Hattori Ransetsu
Among green plums trees..... a lovely beauty gathering her eyebrows up!! -Yosa Buson
The World Kigo Database has a brief analysis of this haiku where it debates whether the phrase “gathering her eyebrows up” is a commentary on the sourness of a green plum or a reference to a poem by Li Bai titled ‘Resentment’’. In that poem a “women roll[s] up the curtain to her window, gather her eyebrows up and start crying.”(5)
drying plums - the garden becomes all quiet -Takizawa Iyoji
comparing my wrinkles with the pickled plums... first winter rain -Kobayashi Issa
Cheers Plum Wine! Never too late to give in.... -Dr. Gabi Greve
- Prunus mume; Wikipedia
- 72 Season App
- Namiko Chen: Plum Wine; Justonecookbook.com
- Namiko Chen: Umeboshi; Justonecookbook.com
- The haiku for this post were found on the World Kigo Database and on WASHOKU – Japanese Food Culture and Cuisine posts about Tsukemono Pickles and Umeboshi
The featured image of the plums on the tree came from Manseok Kim, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons