I've long been fascinated by Japanese preserves but most of them seemed far too difficult and intimidating to attempt myself. I make kimchi, sauerkraut, jams and cured meat, and have dabbled in easy Japanese pickles, but miso? Never. Takuan (pickled daikon)? Nope. My one attempt at nukazuke (pickles fermented in rice bran) took at least a month of daily attention before I could even taste them - the bran needs to be mixed every day by hand - and was a miserable failure.
So I was thrilled to see Nancy Singleton Hachisu's newest book, focusing on Japanese preserves; her first, Japanese Farm Food, is excellent. The Californian moved to Japan in 1988, fell in love with a farmer, married him and moved into the farmhouse built by her husband's grandfather almost 90 years ago.
She writes, "Like so many, I took my mother-in-law for granted thinking she would always be there. But somewhere along the line I noticed that she was no longer making miso. I blinked twice and saw that she had given up on making takuan and hakusai [fermented napa cabbage]. They were easier to buy. I had my hands full … so put the Japanese pickles on a back-burner. 'I'll learn how to make them later' was my excuse … But being installed in the family home meant taking an active part in extended family dinners during Japanese holidays, not just as assistant, but as co-cook. And through this transition period, I found that many dishes fared well in my hands …
"In writing Japanese Farm Food, I developed self-confidence in pickling, fermenting and salting, which had always seemed mysteriously Tadaaki's [Hachisu's husband's] purview, not mine. The second winter I made takuan and hakusai, Tadaaki pronounced them 'just like my grandmother's'. Thus began my odyssey of Japanese preserving … All of a sudden, I was making my own miso, soy sauce and the most traditional Japanese pickle trilogy, umeboshi [salted sour plums], takuan and hakusai. All of a sudden I was a real Japanese farmwife, and it felt good."
Hachisu's recipes include salt-dried grey mullet eggs; semi-dried herring; brown rice miso; soy sauce-cured salmon; dashi vinegar; umeboshi; dried persimmons; shio koji; takuan; nukazuke; home-made soy milk; and sake.
Preserving the Japanese Way - Traditions of Salting, Fermenting and Pickling for the Modern Kitchen by Nancy Singleton Hachisu