Friday, 20 July 2012


At the end of June I made some umeshu, plum liqueur. I've been wanting to do it for years, and finally got around to it this year. Now, I say 'made', but it's only really a matter of flavouring ready-made alcohol, as you would when making sloe gin. In fact, it's illegal to make alcohol in Japan unless you are a licensed producer. No home-brew or pea-pod wine here I'm afraid.

Making umeshu is very easy. When the plums are in season (when they are still green), every supermarket has them displayed along with everything else you need (rock sugar, white liquor and storage jars) along with a poster showing the recipe. When I got home I found that the liquor carton and the sugar bag and the label on the jar also featured the recipe for umeshu, though each one was slightly different!

So here's what I did....
Firstly, you have to pick out the stem part from each plum, using a toothpick or something similar. I thought this might be rather fiddly...

...but the stems actually pop out really easily. It was quite a satisfying little job!

Next, wash and dry and plums. Wash and dry the container you'll be using too. I followed the directions carefully and sterilised it by wiping it with alcohol too, but that probably wasn't necessary. Last year, H made a tiny amount of umeshu from a handful of plums from our tree. He didn't have a suitable container so put it in a large Coke glass, with a piece of clingfilm and a rubber band in lieu of a lid. And it was good :-)

So, for a kilo of plums you need 1.8 litres of white liquor (a standard Japanese measure) and between 500 grammes and a kilo of rock sugar, depending on the recipe you use. Not surprisingly, the sugar bag recipe called for a full kilo! I used about two thirds of a kilo bag.

Layer in the plums and rock sugar...

...and then pour in the liquor.

And that's it!

Now for the hard part: leave it in a cool, dry place where it won't be disturbed for as long as you can bear to wait. Again, the recipes varied but the general consensus seemed to be that it needs at least 3 months, but 12 months or more is better.

Like most Japanese houses we have a trapdoor in the floor downstairs, opening into the crawlspace. It allows (reasonably!) easy access to all the pipes, and lets fresh air circulate, coming in through vents in the walls. It's also the perfect place to store umeshu...

Here's how it looked after a week. The plums were starting to float and the sugar was largely dissolved:

I looked again this morning  and the sugar had completely dissolved. Now I just need to try and forget about it for a few months. Maybe I'll crack it open for Christmas...

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