May 25, 2010

Ume, ume hanging on the tree.

While LilSis was here we visited Kyoto.  We saw lots of stuff.  Today I am going to tell you about these:

First.  You are looking at ume, a tart little fruit that I have come to adore in all of their incarnations.  Ume are usually pickled {umeboshi} or used to distill a hard alcohol {umeshu}.  I have fond  memories of sucking on umeboshi and rock sugar as I ran my marathon last fall.  In Japan electrolyte and energy restoration is often quite primative - but effective.  Ume are often described as a Japanese plum but in fact they are more closely related to apricots.  Phil taught us that as we wandered through the ume grove at Nijo Castle.

 (via here)

We stopped by Nijo Castle because Mom suggested it.  It's a world heritage site {one of 17 in Kyoto} and was the house of Tokagawa Ieyasu.  Phil's a big fan of his.  So am I.  He was kind of awesome, what unifying and pacifying Japan and all.  We went to listen to the Nightingale floors.  It turns out that Phil's hero was a wee bit paranoid - or cautious - and built his house so that when the floors were walked on they would chirp like a flock of Nightingales.  At one point while we were touring the house I made Phil and LilSis stop and listen as the Golden Week hordes moved past us.  It was pretty impressive and squeaky.

Then the moment was over and Phil began formulating a plan to break into the house without sounding the alarm.  After touring the inside - where one of us wondered why the handicapped access ramp didn't sing...we meandered through the formal viewing garden.  

We all promptly climbed under the floor boards to take a look at how those floors worked.  Phil, the engineer in the crew found a corner piece and started wiggling it.  You could see a series of smaller dowels that created friction points with the nails.  It was really cool to have heard, and then to see.

There we were wandering through the castle grounds and we thought we heard strains of Auld Lang Syne.  Wierd.  A minute or two later a voice came over the loud speaker thanking us for visiting and asking us to make our way to the nearest exit immediately followed by a continuous loop of Auld Lang Syne.  What a very polite, pleasant and effective way to get kicked out of a world heritage site.  I promise I haven't forgotten about the ume.  I was just about to stumble upon them.

As we were making our way to said nearest exit we wandered through the plum grove.  I was making a snarky remark about how lame plums are and then I saw them.  The ume!  Not regular plums.  Japanese plums.  Duh!

Ume is one of the first flowers of Spring - one or two weeks ahead of the cherries, but I was surprise to see how large the fruit had gotten on the branches.  They are harvested when they are a little bigger than a large walnut but smaller than a plum.  I had never really noticed them on the trees before, and I was captivated.  If Auld Lang Syne had not been playing I might have gazed longer.

As fruit grow, to market they go.  Sure enough, the next week ume were front and center with the supplies for pickling and distilling.

PS - We are in the middle of a massive lightning storm {the first I can remember in Japan} and I want to get this up and unplug for the night.  Sorry for my rather rough thoughts and possible typographic errors.  There is an electric light show outside and I just want to turn off the lights, sip my tea and watch the storm tonight.

PPS - Less than a second between flash and to go!

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