Blog

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.

Sending Greetings to Japan

The tale of Genji (Murasaki Shikibu) was written in the early 11th century in Japan.

The story is about the secret affairs of a handsome and intelligent playboy named Hikaru Genji with prominent ladies. Hikaru Genji and the ladies sometimes exchanged letters instead of meeting: he was particularly attracted by well written letters. Perhaps it was because sending a good handwritten letter to somebody is a creative and passionate way of presenting ones thoughts. Not limited to love letters, the impact of receiving handwritten letters hasn’t changed for over 900 years – although it feels the impact might be stronger during this pandemic. It has been said that the golden age of letter writing was between the 18th and 20th century.

The post card above was painted by a 16 year old girl who stayed in Kiwanosato last summer. It was posted just before the lockdown to celebrate the 90th birthday of the oldest lady in the village in April. The postman who delivered this card will have been one of the very few wanted visitors to the valley during the pandemic.

A Suspicious 90 Year Old Lady

The oldest villager of Kiwanosato, Mrs. Isomura, turned 90 years old earlier this month (April 2020).

On the morning of her birthday, she went to the mountain to collect horsetails that grow wild. Then she made a phone call to a man who is referred to in the local area as ‘the agent’.

What does he do exactly? What is Mrs. Isomura’s business with him? Why call him on her 90th birthday?

April is the season for horsetails. As Mrs. Isomura loves going to the mountain to collect seasonal harvests, she has arranged for the agent (a dealer for the local farmer’s market) to come and collect the bunches of horsetails she gathers from her home as she no longer drives.

Tending to the rice fields, collecting seasonal harvests and chuckling every day are a just a few of the many things that Mrs. Isomura loves to do and are perhaps many of the reasons why she is loved by everyone.

Not Just ‘Longevity of Life’: Updates from Kiwanosato

It is a commonly shared philosophy within Kiwanosato that there is no retirement in being productive. Staying active during the lockdown, some of the villagers share the recipes that they feel support their long and active lives, while others provide updates on how they are remaining active during this time.

Mrs. Yoshimura’s (75) Ginger Punch

Ingredients:  thinly sliced organic fresh ginger, rice vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt

Pour boiling water over the sliced ginger and drain. Mix well with the vinegar, sugar and salt mix and set in the fridge. Consume a couple of slices a day. If the ginger is too hard, chop it finely.

Mr. Okamomto’s (83) Mountain Chocolate Factory

Ingredients and Equipment:  organic garlic, newspaper, rice cooker

Line the rice cooker with the newspaper and then lay in the separated garlic cloves. Leave in the cooker on a warm heat setting for 10 to 15 days. Check occasionally until the garlic gets soft and becomes a dark chocolate brown colour. Consume one clove a day.

Nobody but Cherry Blossoms

The local potter, Mr. Kato, visited one of the famous cherry parks in Shimonoseki, near Kiwanosato where over 320 trees are in full bloom (see image above).  Normally cherry bloom potluck parties are hosted everywhere across Japan to celebrate the occasion, but not this year.

Image: In Kato-san’s cherry park. Image courtesy: Mr. Kato

Life Goes On: The Village During Pandemic

Among the population of 70 people in Kiwanosato, the majority are over seventy with the eldest celebrating her ninetieth birthday this April (2020).

Grizedale Arts should be there now (April 2020), working with the villagers to construct a dream garden and hybrid bee house and hunting out fancy mushrooms in the bamboo forest. Although we all have to hold our actions for the moment, nature in the valley keeps moving and so do the villagers. Naturally isolated for centuries the valley’s land remains active with non-stop growing, and no shadow of the pandemic as new bamboo shoots appear.

In our absence, Dream of Kiwanosato project manager and artist Motoko Fujita is keeping in touch with the village and has compiled some of their updates below:

Mrs. Yoshimura (wife of the chairperson, 75 years old)

“I went to the local shop in town to get masks and there were only two packs left. I got one pack but left the other for somebody else. After returning home, I started to cook Tempura and set it on a piece of kitchen paper. I suddenly thought: Kitchen paper….yes! why can’t I make a mask from kitchen paper!”

She recalls when she was young nothing was ‘disposable’ and masks were no exception. Soft cotton fabric masks were readily available and commonly used by Japanese school children when they took their turn in serving school lunch to everyone and then washed after use. In Japan, students are required to help out with work to maintain school life, including serving food and cleaning classrooms.

After the conversation with Mrs. Yoshimura over the phone, I made a mask using one of my mother’s cotton kimono fabric with soft linen on the back. The strings are made from recycled stocking – a gentle touch to ears. I posted this to my mother-in-law who is currently isolating at home in Ireland.

 

Keep that kiln a firing

Mr. Kato (a retired businessman who has led the local pottery group for 15 years)

“I was lucky to be chosen as one of the Olympic torch bearers this year. Well, it was not a bad thing to postpone something fun for a while – until next year. I will keep preparing myself ready to run.”

Mr. Kato’s pottery group Gaga Yudo (meaning ‘enjoy yourself in playing with clay’) holds an annual exhibition in Kikugawa, a town beside Kiwanosato village, every November. Grizedale Arts have collaborated with them through on various programmes hosted in the village. Artist Tom Philipson led the development of bamboo mould pottery as one of the village products, and with their support, he will return later this year to host one of our schools with fellow maker, Joe Hartley.

Keep the Bees Happy

Mr Kaneko (a retired businessman, beekeeper, grower and a young lad in the village)

“Bees need bloom in February and March. Maybe next time you come to Kiwanosato you can plant rape blossoms because they are very good for bees. I will keep updating the garden but I will not have social drinks with friends for the next few months, that is the only change!”

Grizedale Arts organised a new bee garden last October with artist and gardener Karen Guthrie who planned the challenging self-managing garden as a test case. The garden will require no weeding and has anti-deer & boar prevention incorporated with no need for traps or scaring devices.  Mr. Kaneko continues to report back regularly on how the garden is developing, with each of his reports very clear and precisely delivered. When I read his reports, I can imagine how he was when he worked as an engineer in one of the big bathroom fixtures companies in Japan.