Someone asked me about Japanese pickles. Besides the fact that I like to eat them I don't think I'm very knowlegable. But I'll give it a try.
Japanese love pickles. They seem to love any foods that can be preserved so we use a lot of dried fish and vegetables and a lot of pickled foods too. At any hole in the wall place serving lunch or dinner there will always be a tiny plate of pickles next to the rice bowl... come to think of it, at the fancy restaurants too, there will often be a tiny plate of pickles next to the expensive sashimi plate too!
I have a feeling that being able to make pickles is a requirement for being a farm wife. Behind the sheds and out the back door of the kitchen, a farmer's wife will have two or three plastic "trash cans" filled with pickles. She will have started whatever pickles as the vegetables are harvested and each "can" will have a different load of pickles. Of course cucumber, but also Chinese cabbage, or long icicle radish or plums. The outdoor pickles can be eaten for months and months and given away to people like me who don't make pickles, but there are also overnight pickles. I see that I have written about the overnight pickles before, so you can check this blog post... but anyway, pickles are an important part of a meal!
This is Takuan, a distinctly flavorful icicle radish pickle. Y-kun brought this over from his grandmother.
I have had fair success with making overnight pickles but I stay far away from trying to make long term pickles. My only attempt was when I was a newly wed bride and I thought I'd be very Japanese if I made Tetsu some pickled plums. They are called Umeboshi in Japan...
Umeboshi are great for rice balls and for flavor in a cold lunch box. They are extremely salty and sour. If you think of green olives, what happens? You start salivating. With Umeboshi too. (In fact I've used Umeboshi in casseroles calling for green olives and the dish was delicious.)
Back when I innocently decided to make Umeboshi I bought a box of plums, sprayed them with a type of sake and set them out to dry on a bamboo tray, (being careful to bring the tray in whenever it rained) and then I was ready to salt the plums and add some red burdock leaves that have a wonderful aroma and also turn the plums bright pink. The Umeboshi are supposed to be left in a cool, dry place so I chose our apartment closet. Every so often I would check the Umeboshi turning a lovely pink color in the ever increasing bath of brine... But one day when getting something out of the closet I upturned everything and the whole bucket fell all over our bedding and other stored items... I had a pink, sticky mess and I was so frustrated I tossed out the whole bucket! Our closet was badly stained pink which I'm sure was a mystery to the next apartment residents... I've never tried to make Umeboshi again.
I don't really have to make pickles anyway and probably most young Japanese wives (non-farm wives) have no idea how to make pickles. We have access to numerous of types of pickles in the supermarket and the fancier department stores and local specialty shops sell pickles by weight. Tetsu and I were somewhere and all the tourists were milling around sampling all the different types of pickles available. Celery, shallots, bamboo shoots, ferns etc.
At the same place, there was another shopkeeper selling pickles... of sorts. These all have fish in them... Let's see... a type of pickled herring (but not pickled in sour cream), pickled salmon, pickled shellfish...
Pickles... a nice accent to a Japanese meal. A place to rest your chopsticks before another mouthful. A refreshing sensation separating one flavor from the next.