The Fruit Platter: Watermelon, Strawberries, Ume Sour Plums, More

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Fruit Melon

The Japanese consume lots of fruit, some home grown but much is imported, thus rather expensive. This is the country of the US$80+ melon, after all. Try to guess how much this specimen, photographed in August 2017 at the Takashimaya Department Store in Kyoto, cost. The answer is at the bottom of the article.

The nation has a particular fondness for melon, and especially suika watermelon. The summertime beach game of suika-wari smash-the-watermelon, a kind of blind-man’s-buff meets martial art, has irrevocably entered the nation’s collective consciousness.

By the way, yes, we do know that strictly speaking watermelons are vegetables, not fruit. Still can’t quite believe it though. They sure look like fruit...

FruitIchigo strawberries, ume sour plums bananas, budo grapes, pineapples, melons, ringo apples, oranges, nashi pears, momo peach, sakuranbo cherries, kaki persimons and ichijiku figs, an early 17th century introduction, are the most common. Indigenous fruits are, however, relatively thin on the, er, tree. Mikan mandarins or tangerines, and the related but larger, ponkan, are commonly eaten in the winter.

Aomori Prefecture produces over half of Japan’s apple supplies, with Nagano, Iwate and Yamagata also growing significant crops. Fuji, Arupusu Otome (The Virgin of the Alps, no less), Shinano Sweet, Jona Gold, Tsugaru, Senshu, Mutsu and Benio are all Japanese apple varieties. A popular kaiseki pre-meal aperitif is ringo-shu apple liqor.

FruitBudo grapes are primarily grown in Yamanashi prefecture, centre of the country’s relatively fledgling, but active, wine industry. Grapes ripen from July with certain varieties continuing until the autumn. The old name for wine in Japanese is budoshu, ‘grape alcohol’.

Tochigi prefecture is the center of Japan’s ichigo strawberry production. Tochiotome, Hi no Shizuku, and Amao are popular varieties. Recent research has shown that eating strawberries relieves stress. Who would have ever guessed? You can find strawberry flavored just about everything. I personally draw the line at eating ichiigo sando though: strawberry sandwiches.

FruitUme sour plums must be the most Japanese of the Japanese fruits. Famously associated with Wakayama Prefecture, they have been cultivated since at least the Nara Period. By the time the Heian Period rolled around, they were already being touted for their health-giving properties.

When dried and salt-pickled, often with akajiso red shiso, and sometimes with the addition of hachimitsu honey, they are known as umeboshi. There’s a Japanese proverb that translates, roughly, as “An umeboshi a day keeps the doctor away”. Umeboshi are often served atop plain white rice, and the traditional poor man’s bento is simply a bento box of rice with a red umeboshi plum in the middle. This is known as a Hinomaru bento, due to its similarity to the Japanese national flag.

Ume goes well with poultry dishes, and the crushed flesh of the plum is often used as a topping, This kind of dish is termed bainiku-ae, bainiku being the word for the fruit’s flesh. Plums are associated closely with the tsuyu rainy season, as they ripen at its onset in the early summer. They are also made into an excellent alcoholic drink, umeshu.

The melon cost ¥10800, that's $98.99, or £76.09or HKD773.97, or... rather a lot for a fruit.

 

 

 

 

John F. Ashburne

John F. Ashburne

Editor-in-Chief Foodies Go Local