Umeboshi Misadventures

We had a big crop of ume this year – only around 10-15 pounds, but that’s good to me. Here are the results so far.

My mom and I clashed over how to do this. She was of the “press large batches”, don’t clean too much, and salt enough school of thought.

I’m of the “remove the stem”, wash with alcohol, and “press small batches” school. I’m not Mr. Clean, but I do the bare minimum, in my opinion.

She also believes that if the ume contact stainless steel, it’ll ruin it. I didn’t see the logic in that, but there might be something to it. The stuff is acidic.

So we are a week in, and one big batch is ruined. It’s a few pounds. The two culprits: black mold, and blue mold.

Black mold around the stem.

Black mold grew around the stem.

Blue-white mold, which looks and smells like bread mold, spread in spots here and there as well.

I managed to salvage a cup of ume pulp, and have salted it to make ume paste.

Causes of Mold?

I think it’s a few different things:

  1. Not removing the stem! The way I remove them is to soak the ume for an hour or so. The stem gets soft, and can be pushed aside with a chopstick or toothpick point. See photo above.
  2. Wrapping it in a bag. My mom used a plastic bag to line an enamel pot, because the pot had chipped paint with exposed metal. I think this was a good idea, generally, to avoid the rust, but folding the bag over was a bad idea, because it didn’t allow the ume to breathe. Also, she didn’t sterilize the bag (it was a shopping bag). She just washed it out, and probably didn’t use soap. Photo is below.
  3. Not rinsing it with alcohol. She just doesn’t do it. I use vodka, or even sake, to do a rinse or soak, to sterilize the surface. I think it also arrests ripening if the ume is cut or broken.

Here’s a picture of the bag it was in. In this picture, I’m washing away some of the salt and mold, and hoping to desalinate it a bit, in preparation for removing seeds.

This is the press setup in the kitchen. Yeah, it’s out in the open. But this had no mold. These haven’t been cleaned too much, but, they also were not put into any stainless steel. So, maybe there’s something to that. However, I think the fact it can breathe helps avoid some mold. The ume surface is always drying out.

I also have another batch sandwiched between the two blue dish pans. This doesn’t breathe, but, so far, no mold. I prepared this batch by cleaning it off, removing the stems, but did not rinse it with vodka.

I am NOT recommending the dishpans. I don’t think it’s a good way to press, because the pressure is spread out too much. I actually like this, so far:

This is a jar of water, pushing on a plastic lid, that’s pushing down onto a batch of ume in a tupperware. The painters tape is to hold the jar in place.

My prior attempts at umeboshi were done in similar, jar-like arrangements.

Here’s another, tiny batch, in a pint glass, with a narrower plastic cup pressing down on the five ume.

This one is a little weird, because most of these have been infusing a jar of vodka and sake for several months. In the past, they formed some mold, and I wanted to try and fix them.

The alcohol treatment worked, but maybe too well. The plums stopped ripening. Some were hard, and some were soft. So I put them into the glass, salted them, and pressed them under a glass of water. Some of the liquid came out.

Basically, these ume are dead. They’re sterile.

With the help of @koreatownclass, I was taught how to make sugar-preserved ume. These are rescued ume. I took fallen fruit, which cannot be used for umeboshi, and the more damaged looking fruit, cleaned off the nastiest parts, and soaked them in sake. Again, the alcohol seemed to arrest the ripening.

I thought it would taste good with sugar, so I added a lot of brown sugar.

@koreatownclass told me to remove them from the alcohol, pack with sugar equal to the weight of the ume.

I removed the alcohol, for the most part (I didn’t rinse them off, and re-used the jar).

The first batch after 1.5 days:

The fruit was ripening, and packing down, and dissolving the sugar. I don’t think I added enough sugar. It smelled both good and funky, but I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

I added more ume, and more sugar.

I also started a small batch from the rest of the sake-cleaned fruit. (I also washed and removed stems!)

This will require more sugar.

The infused sake was sweet and alcoholic, and tasted a lot like tamarindo. I had to dilute it and add ice, and a little lemon. It’s really tasty.

These sugar-preserved ume are sitting on the counter. They will ferment at room temperature, and be ready in three months, I have been told.

The bad ume are going to be salvaged in this way:

I’ve soaked and rinsed away the salt that I could. Some (that weren’t too moldy, and partially ripe) were salvaged to make an experimental ume paste of semi-ripe ume and salt. I used about 3% to 4% salt. I figure this will eventually ripen and become edible. Or it’ll grow horrible mold and be inedible.

The rest were kept in the bag and put into a plastic bucket, and I added a little splash of bleach.

I figure that the salt will continue to leach out, and then the bleach will kill the surface mold. I’ll drain it off after a day, and maybe I can wash the fruit off, and set it out to ripen. Once it’s ripe, I’ll dump them into a bucket of water, to ferment.

Once it’s fermented, I can rub the fruit off and recover the stone. I’m going to then try and grow the stone into a tree.

Likewise, some fruit is still dropping from the tree. This fruit is being tossed into a bucket of water, in the sun, to ferment. Once I recover those stones, I’ll try to grow them as well.

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