This summer, a farmer I know had a box of these little plums on sale. They made for good fresh eating, but their size and rusty purple color made me think instantly of umeboshi. They’re not the same fruit—ume plums are more like apricots, and are picked yellow-green and not fully ripe—but I figured it would be worth giving them the same treatment.
I packed them in a jar with some salt, shaking them daily as they gave up their juice so that the upper layers not yet covered with brine would stay mold-free. They sat on the counter (adding a pleasing visual counterpoint to all the various fermenting vinegars arrayed behind the jar) for a few months. Once the liquid covered them all, I strained off the liquid, known in Japan as umeshu (even though it’s not really vinegar, it’s sour, salty, and strong: a killer condiment) and arranged the plums on a paper towel out on the porch to catch the still warm but weakening sun for several days.
Traditionally, the plums are fermented with red shiso leaves to give them a nice deep color. Since these were already plenty plummy, I added some anise hyssop for a little extra something; it’s a wonderful herb with a complex anise flavor and a significant sweetness. It seemed like a nice complement.
They dried up nicely, looking quite authentic. The main difference is the exterior; the real thing, being apricots, have a matte softness to their skin while these retained their glossiness and wrinkled more stiffly. The flavor is excellent, though; not spot on, but every bit as useful for a jolt of sweet and sour salt. I have a hankering to use these in place of prunes and preserved lemons in a lamb tagine sometime very soon. The liquid has already started appearing in vinaigrettes; it’s the unattainable wet dream of every shitty, insipid raspberry balsamic dressing ever made.
There’s a particular satisfaction to be had in moving an ingredient from the import column to the DIY. Next year I’m buying a half-bushel of these little guys.