Monday, June 23, 2008

June harvest (part 1)


Japan is a very fertile place! It's also very wet, with a mild climate, so it's very easy to grow a lot of food. Here is a selection of what we've been getting from our gardens this month. (I already posted about Lima beans)

Compared to Europe or the U.S., potatoes are relatively expensive in Japan, and there is not a great variety. I'm a meat 'n potatoes kind of guy, so a big chunk of my garden space is given over to the mighty spud. In our village this year everybodies potatoes did not do well,.. the plants were stunted and yellow, but I still managed to harvest about 40 kilos, certainly not enough to last the year, but never fear..... one of my neighbors, a full-time farmer - a rarity in Japan- , grows lots, and as she grows them for sale she throws out any that are under 4-5 cms. Once she found out I love those tasty little spuds she now gives me about 60 kilos every spring!!! The potato was introduced into Japan about 400 years ago by the Dutch. Coming from their base in Jakarta, potatoes became known as "jagatara imo", now shortened to Jyagaimo.


Garlic was known in Japan in ancient times, being mentioned in the 7th Century Kojiki. In the Heian period it was known as a food and a medicine. At some point there was a Buddhist proscription against eating garlic and so it fell out of favor and didn't start to be eaten again till the Meiji period (late 19th Century). The Japanese palate shies away from "strong" flavors, and so it is not used a lot, mostly in Italian and French dishes. We preserve some in soy sauce, and in olive oil.


Various kinds of small onions, spring onions, green onions, etc have been grown for a long time in Japan, but the large, globular onions were not introduced until relatively late, in the Meiji period. It was introduced by Americans into Hokkaido, and the american influence on the newly colonized northern island's agriculture is easily visible today. From there it spread south. It was also introduced on a lesser scale in the Kobe area from an American living in that Treaty Port. I always plant some of our onions close together and then pick them when they are small,... perfect size for pickled onions, something not available in the stores here.


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