Japanese Farm Food
By Nancy Singleton Hachisu


I bought this book because, at the time, I was obsessed with making nukazuke, or rice bran pickles. Finding the rice bran was difficult - I even briefly contemplated split-ting a 100kg minimum order of the stuff with a friend, which, considering the lightness of the bran, would probably have been equivalent in volume to a small car.

Making the pickles proved even harder, even though I'm quite experienced in making other types of pickle, such as kimchi and sauerkraut. It's a long process that involves flavouring and dampening the rice bran, ripening it for a week or so by burying vegetables in the crock every day then throwing them away, and also turning the mixture each day so the stuff at the bottom can come into contact with air, preventing it from becoming too sour.

My research found that Japanese housewives are judged on the quality of their pickles and that many take their nukazuke pot with them on holiday, refusing to entrust the daily upkeep to someone else.

Despite my care, which included getting up in the middle of the night to mix the rice bran because I realised I'd forgotten to do so earlier, I failed, and the nukadoko (the rice bran "bed") turned disgustingly sour. But I take com-fort from the fact that someone as experienced as Nancy Singleton Hachisu also failed. The American writes, "I've heard of people keeping their nukadoko fresh and alive for years. But we are not one of them - we would lose track of the days and forget to turn the nukadoko to keep it from getting sour. And eventually we had to toss the whole thing and start again. But that's OK. Life is a process, and so is pickle-making. It's OK to make mistakes along the way."

My obsession with nukazuke has faded (although I'll try again in the cooler weather) but there's still plenty in this book to keep me interested. Hachisu has implemented the "farm to table" principles that are so popular now, and much of the food she writes about is grown or raised on the farm in rural Japan where she lives with her husband.

It's no surprise that much of the book is devoted to produce, rather than meat or fish, although many of the vegetable dishes are non-vegetarian, due to them having ingredients such as katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings). She has chapters on pickles and soups; soya beans and eggs; noodles and rice; vegetables; seafood; and meats, and recipes for dishes such as simmered gyoza; hand-rolled sushi; cauliflower with miso and sesame; teriyaki chicken; pork cutlets with soy sauce-flavoured egg; and shiso granita.