The Dream of a Fungus Grower

Mr. Yoshimura (78 years old) is a passionate grower. His house and workspace are full of equipment to cultivate seeds and once he starts talking about fungus, you can’t stop him – his knowledge is extensive and fascinating. However, his main passion focuses on the effect fungus has on the soil. 

Recently, he started to supply organic fertilisers to local shops selling one bag for 400Yen. One of his special fertilisers is a mix of yeast, natto (fermented soybeans) and sugar. Since the pandemic occurred, yeast was out of stock in local shops so his daughter in Tokyo ordered it online for him and then forwarded it in the mail. He was very excited to be able to mix his special homemade fertiliser recipe again.

His wife, Mrs. Yoshimura, explains: “My husband’s brain is totally occupied by fungus. When he cannot sleep at night he gets up and starts reading a book about fungus. It could be 2am in the morning!”

Mr. Yoshimura’s keen interest in farming has developed after his retirement from engineering. His special fertiliser mixes deliver outstanding products seasonally – massive tasty sweet potatoes, rich flavoured fresh ginger, high quality rice and much more.

Some of the ingredients for meals served during the Dream of Kiwanosato’s programmes are supplied by Mr. Youshimura as well as many other local ‘dream growers’ who all have their own special fertilisers and tricks to grow the most tasty crops.

Relaxed Miso Making

Miso is a fermented soybean paste commonly used in Japanese cooking. Umami (the fifth taste) that Miso contains will help make your cooking special. It can be used as a hidden spice for a variety of meals as well as for Miso soup and is one of the traditional food items that has supported a healthy diet in Japanese food for centuries.

Someone once said to me that when you make your own Miso you will have a special intimacy with that Miso. When I tasted the Miso I made in February, despite it still being very young, I could taste the Umami, but I’m looking forward to the taste changing as it continues to ferment until December when it will finally be ready.

I always thought Miso making would be very difficult as the recipes seem to require various delicate processes. But the method introduced here is designed to be as easy as possible and keeps its quality better than the ready-made version you can buy in the shops. The recipe is a combination of experienced people’s advice and my own research, and although I have never tried this method before, I think it will work. I will update you with the results in November, but if you cannot not wait until then, please go ahead and have fun!

The best time of making Miso is between January and March. The reason for this is bacteria and temperature. It is easy to work in a less bacterial season and also ideal to ferment slowly at the beginning (during winter), with a faster few months (over summer), before slowing down (during autumn). However it depends on where you are, and if you are considering this cycle of seasons in someway, you can try anytime. 

It may be a good idea to cook stocks while you are stuck at home.

Ingredients (makes about 1kg of miso)

Dried soybean 200g | Rice Koji  500g (can be purchased online) | Salt  130g (about 11.5% = a little sweet Miso)

*Simply multiply if you wish to make a larger batch.

You will also need

A large mixing bowl | A big pot (for boiling beans with a lot of water) | A drainer | A container to keep your Miso in for many months | A lid that is smaller than the container (to put inside it to seal) | A weigh (stone or anything similar)

*All cooking tools need to be sterilised before use.

Method (total work time is a few hours but the whole process takes two to three days)

The First Day (Afternoon):

  • Wash dried soybeans and soak in plenty of water overnight, for at least 12 hours or more (I did 18 hours). Use a large container as the beans will expand to about 3 times the size they were when dried. If you can, change the water a few times during the soaking process.

The Second Day (Morning)

  • Boil the soaked soybeans for about 5 hours. At first a lot of bubbles will appear, but scoop them out and keep adding a little bit of water while boiling and eventually the bubbles will disappear. After 5 hours, check if the beans are soft enough to crush easily with your finger tips, if not, boil until they are. Once soft enough, remove from the heat and wrap the pot with a thick material or blanket and leave it overnight in the kitchen.

The Third Day (Morning)

  • Re-heat the beans until they start to boil.
  • While heating beans, put all of the Koji Kin in a large sterilised container and then mix in the salt a little at a time and mix well.
  • Drain the beans well and put into a blender or mash with a masher until the texture becomes a thick paste.
  • When the beans are mashed, add the salted Koji a little at a time while mixing. Do not mix in the Koji if the beans are still very hot, the ideal temperature for mixing is around 20C – 25C but I do not check the temperature accurately when I mix.
  • Take a handful of miso mix and push into a sterilised container so no air stays in the miso mix. To help set the miso in the container, lift up the container and drop a few times, it is important for the process that no air gaps are left in the miso.
  • Spread salt over the surface to avoid any mould growth (on my Miso I did not do this step and instead tried a new method – see the next stage). Cover with cling film and then cover with cooking paper. This helps to seal the surface and keep air tight.
  • Put a weigh on top to seal everything. Additionally, you can put a flat tray on top of your weight onto which you can spread Wasabi which is said will prevent the Miso from growing mould with no need for the salt in the previous step.
  • Loosely seal the lid of the container for fermentation.
  • Leave in a dark and cool place in the house for about 10 months to 1 year.
  • If mould appears, you can remove those parts and still use the miso. Some recipes recommend checking your Miso during its fermentation, but I am not going to do this as opening the seal increases the chance of bacteria getting in.

Making Udon Noodles with your Feet

When I visited one of my Japanese friends, she treated me to her special ‘feet-made’ Udon noodles. All of the kneading was done by my friend with her feet while she was making me tea and by her two young children who also came to help. It was very well wrapped and super clean, just in case you were worrying about hygiene!  

The history behind feet-made Udon in Japan comes from the country’s Sanuki area (now the Kagawa prefecture, part of Shikoku) which is famous for its Udon noodles. Kneading the dough was one of the hardest but most important parts of the process for Udon factory workers who began to develop ways of making the process easier by using their feet – a method which has been further developed over centuries.

Fairland Collective – of which I am a member – once introduced the method of feet-made Udon during a series of workshops that were part of a residency in Cornwall. The local community were invited to knead their own Udon with their feet accompanied by a song called ‘The marching for 365 steps’ which was a big hit song in 1968 in Japan.

How to make your own feet-made Udon:

Ingredients (serves 4-5 people)

Plain flour 200g | Strong flour 200g (mix together to make 400g medium strong flour or alternatively use 400g plain flour) | Water 200ml | Salt (preferably sea salt)  2tsp | A large strong plastic bag (or a few smaller ones to divide for kneading)

  • Mix the water and salt in advance.
  • Put the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre.  Pour the salted water into the well and mix until it forms a dough. 
  • Put the dough in the bag(s) and express any excess air. Put on the floor and step on it several times until the dough becomes flat (you can also do it with your hands if preferred).
  • Open the bag and fold the dough twice and repeat the stepping process. Repeat this about 10 times.
  • Leave the dough for 30 minutes. If you have time you can even leave it overnight (this will create a more chewy textured noodle, which is also tasty).
  • Stretch the dough out and roll flat until it is 2-3mm. Fold it and dust with flour. Cut into strips around 5mm in width and mix with flour to avoid it being sticky (see image below).
  • To cook, place the Udon in boiling water for about 5-7 minutes (may be longer depending on how thick you cut it so test before removing). After boiling, rinse with cold water immediately – this makes the noodles nice and chewy.
  • Drain well and set aside. Serve it hot or cold with soup.

Oh Dear Melonpan

Melonpan is one of the most popular sweet breads in Japan. My mother loved it, and so did our Grizedale Arts team. It is made using an enriched bread dough which is then covered in a thin layer of crispy cookie dough.

The history of Melonpan goes back to the early 20th century, and was introduced to Japan by an Armenian baker who worked in Japanese hotels in 1910. The bread is also similar to Concha (from Mexico) and Bollobaau (from Hong Kong). It is a cultural fusion and I think it is one of the most interesting hybrid foods in Japan. 

Ingredients:

For bread dough:

Strong flour 200g | Sugar 15g | Salt 3g | Dry yeast 3.5g | A half egg, beaten at room temperature | Slightly warm water 110ml  | Unsalted butter 15g at room temperature 

For the crispy cookie dough:

Plain flour 90g | Almond powder 30g | Sugar 50g | Unsalted butter 40g | A half egg, beaten at room temperature | Granulated sugar 20g for topping

Method:

  • Start with the bread dough. Put the flour in a bowl – add the salt on one side and the sugar and yeast on the other side. In a separate bowl, mix the beaten egg and water together and then pour into the flour bowl over the yeast side. Mix everything together until it becomes easier to knead.
  • Knead the unsalted butter into the dough on a clean table until the dough becomes smooth.
  • Put it back into the bowl, cover with cling film and put in the oven at 40°C for 30 minutes.
  • Then make the cookie dough. Put unsalted butter and sugar in a bowl and whip well until it becomes white. 
  • Put in the half egg and mix well. Then sieve the flour and almond powder in and mix. Shape the dough into a 3cm diameter bar, wrap with cling film and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes. 
  • Take the fermented dough out of the oven and kneed before dividing it into 8 balls (see image below). Cover with cling film and leave for 10 minutes at room temperature. 
  • Take the cookie dough bar out of the fridge. Cut into 8 pieces, rolling each piece into a ball before flattening into a circular shape of 5cm diameter (see image below).
  • Set granulated sugar on a flat plate. Coat one side of the flattened cookie dough disks in the granulated sugar (see image below).
  • Then, keeping the sugar coated side to the outside, wrap the cookie dough around the bread dough balls.
  • Mark the surface of the cookie dough wrapped bread balls similar to melon skin (see image below).
  • Leave to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. 
  • Bake for 14 minutes at 190°c.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool before eating.