After a while,
A lonely feeling
As I typed out the title of this book, I realized its double meaning. Nancy Singleton Hachisu is guiding you through Japanese pickles and preserves, but she’s also featuring the artisans who, in contemporary Japan, sometimes struggle to rake salt from the sea, who burn tea ceremony charcoal, who nurture the koji spores that will help ferment a funky, fruity sake.
As she does in Japanese Farm Food, Hachisu uses her outsider status to explore what natives might take for granted and applies her orderly mind to recording the ancient techniques in a way that will work for a modern western kitchen.
Hachisu’s cooking is as much a lifestyle as a collection of recipes. As a farmer’s wife, she has access to ingredients and traditions that elude city-dwellers. And naturally, she focuses on seasonality. There are certain times of the year for certain pickles and processes. In fact, the book’s last section recounts the Snow of 2014, a storm that dropped a suffocating layer of snow that took down the farm’s chicken coops–the downside of living connected to nature. Whether they will rebuild is an open question–and a small example of the book’s larger point–these traditions that have shaped a culture are in danger of being lost.
The western cook isn’t expected to replicate many of the pickles Hachisu offers and won’t be able to source the artisan ingredients she describes. But a reasonably intrepid cook, armed with the book’s glossary of japanese produce, will be able to dig into recipes like Thinly Sliced Ginger Pickles, Persimmon Vinegar, or Shio Koji-Pickled Onion.
Even if you don’t want a crock bubbling and fermenting for months in the corner of your kitchen, some of these recipes are simply thinking about new ways to combine familiar ingredients. Cucumbers Soused in Soy are brightened with chile and ginger and the three ingredients in Salt-Distressed Mizuma with Kumquat result in a tangy, slaw-type salad that would make a grilled hot dog brilliant.
Sometimes you just need the ingredients and measurements to make a pan of brownies, but other times, you want to travel in a world that is only vaguely familiar. Hachisu welcomes you into her world, before it disappears.