Homemade Umeshu (plum wine) and Ume Hachimitsu Sour (ume honey-vinegar drink)

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Since so many people liked my mom's umeboshi recipe, here are two more recipes using ume plums from her. She doesn't have photos for these, so I've taken a picture of her notes, with a little illustration she did of how to layer the ume and sugar for the umeshu (plum wine).

How To Make Umeshu (plum wine)

Although it's called plum 'wine', this beverage is actually a cordial or a liqueur. It's much easier to make than umeboshi, since the alcohol prevents any mold from forming.

Ingredients and supplies

To make umeshu, you need three ingredients: ume plums (ripe or unripe, but ripe has more fragrance), rock sugar (called kouri zatou (氷砂糖) or 'ice sugar' in Japan) and shochu or shouchuu or another flavorless distilled alcoholic beverage, such as vodka. Rock sugar is preferred because it melts slowly, but you could also use granulated sugar. (You can buy rock sugar at General Asian/Chinese grocery stores - maki)

For equipment, you need a large, wide mouth glass jar with an airtight lid. I use a very large canning jar with a snap-on lid with a rubber gasket. You could also use a screwtop lid. The jar should be large enough so that when you put the ume plums, sugar and shochu in, it should only come to about half of the height.

You'll also need a sharp tool such as a toothpick or skewer to take out the stem ends, and a scale to weigh the ingredients.

Amounts

Weigh your ume plums, then weigh out about half of that weight in rock sugar. If you want it sweeter, increase to 60%. If you want to less sweet, use less sugar, though I would not go under 40% since ume plums are very sour.

I like to keep it simple, and use 500 grams of sugar for every kilo of ume plums.

I never weigh the shochu, but there should be enough so that it completely covers the ume plums in the jar. For a kilo of ume plums I use about 2 liters of shochu.

Incidentally, I usually make about 5 kilo (11 lbs) worth of ume plums in one session, and I make it every year! So, that's 5 kg of ume plums, 2.5 kg of rock sugar, and about 10 liters of shochu.

Method

Wash your jar or jars and lid well, and sterilize them in boiling water, in a hot dishwasher, in a warm oven, or with some of the alcohol you are using (shochu or vodka), just as you would when making jam or pickles.

Wash and dry the unripe green ume plums, and take off the stem end bits in the same way as in the umeboshi recipe with a toothpick or other pointy tool. You don't need to soak them in water to get rid of the bitterness as you do with umeboshi, though you can if you want a very smooth tasting umeshu.

Weigh your ume plums after washing and de-stemming them, to get the amount of sugar you need.

Put a layer of ume plums in the jar, then a layer of rock sugar. Repeat until all the sugar and plums are used up, and press down with a clean spatula to compact it all in the jar. Pour the shochu or vodka into the jar until it just covers the topmost layer of plums. The jar should only be about half full, since a lot of liquid will come out of the plums. If you fill the jar too much to start with, the liquid may overflow and burst the lid off!

Put the lid on securely, and leave the jar in a cool, dark place. You may want to shake the jar occasionally to help things along. After about 3 months, the plums will have exuded a lot of juice and will come floating up to the surface - remove the ume plums (you can store them separately if you like; since they are completely saturated with sugar and alcohol, they won't go bad). After about 5 months, the umeshu is ready to drink, but I like to leave it for at least a year to let it mature. Umeshu really at its best after 2 years, and just mellows and improves with age.

Mellow umeshu has a beautiful light green color, like light olive oil.

Some people like to eat the ume plums that have been used to make the umeshu; it's believed to have medicinal qualities. People say that an ume a day keeps your insides healthy. You can also float a single ume plum in your umeshu drink as decoration.

How to drink umeshu

You can drink umeshu straight, or on the rocks (over ice cubes) like any liqueur. I like to mix it with water, at about a 1:1 ratio, with lots of ice cubes.

Fruit 'wine' with other fruit

If you can't get ume plums, you can use the same method with other fruit. Strawberry wine, or ichigoshu, is very popular in Japan: for 1 kilo of good, ripe strawberries, use maybe 100 grams of sugar, depending on how sweet the fruit is. After 2 to 3 months, the strawberries will become completely white! Take them out (I wouldn't eat these), and let the strawberry 'wine' mature. You can try apricots, quince, regular Western plums, and so on.

How To Make Honey Sour with ume plums

While umeshu is delicious, it is very alcoholic. So for non-drinkers and my grandchildren, I make a non-alcoholic version with honey and vinegar, called Honey Sour (蜂蜜サワー).

Honey Sour is easier to make than umeshu. Just take equal amounts in weight of unripe green ume plums, honey and vinegar. The vinegar can be rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar - any light flavored and colored vinegar will work. Combine it all in a sterilized large jar. After a while (3 to 4 weeks), take out the plums that will have come floating up to the surface; these can be eaten too, like the umeshu plums. You can rebottle the honey sour in sterilized bottles at this point if you prefer, which can be kept at room temperature.

Use Honey Sour in the same way as you would use umeshu - on the rocks, mixed with water, and so on. It's also nice as a syrup on shaved ice (kakigouri). I like to bring a small bottle of it on hikes, where we mix it with clear, cold water from mountain streams. So refreshing!

You could try other fruit too. Quince (called karin in Japanese) are really good as a Honey Sour base.

Footnote from Maki: My mother's drawings

I love the little drawing my mom did for her umeshu instructions. I think her drawings are great, and keep telling her so, but she doesnt seem convinced! Here's one she did of breakfast a couple of years back, with a wedge of melon and a bowl of muesli. I'm trying to convince her to let me show more of her drawings!

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