All you need is ume plums, rock sugar, sochu, and a clean non-metallic jar.
The other day, I posted about Japanese ume plums which are in season right now. In this post, I'll take you through the process of making umeshu, which is a sweet cordial made from the ume plums. Most people call it "plum wine," but it's technically a cordial or liqueur.
This sweet, fruity liquor is super easy to make, requires few ingredients, and when it's ready to drink, you can eat the plums, too! It's terrific on its own, on the rocks, or mixed with a little sake or sochu.
Rock sugar is used because it dissolves more slowly than table sugar, and it flavors the alcohol more proportionally. Sochu (also written as soju or shochu) is a type of Japanese and Korean vodka made from sweet potatoes or grains. 1.75-liter plastic bottles are available at Asian markets. Try to find sochu that is 35% alcohol, but if you can't, 24% alcohol is okay. If you can't find sochu, vodka is fine to use. It just has to be a flavorless, distilled alcoholic beverage.
What You Need
Japanese green ume plums - call Mitsuwa at 1-877-MITSUWA (877-648-7892) to order. Only available for a short window in early summer!
Optional: purple shiso leaves
A kitchen scale
A large, wide mouth clean non-metallic jar with a tight lid. The jar should be large enough that the plums, sugar, and sochu should only fill 3/4 of the jar.
1. Wash the plums and remove the stems. The stems are small and deep, so use a toothpick or your pinky fingernail to dig them out.
2. Measure out an amount of plums that would fill half of the jar you're planning to use. Weigh them. Set aside.
3. Weigh out the rock sugar in an amount that is half the weight of the plums. For example, if you have two pounds of plums, you need a pound of rock sugar.
4. Place a layer of plums in the jar, then a layer of rock sugar, then a layer of plums, then a layer of rock sugar. Continue until all the plums and sugar are used up. Optional: you can add layers of red shiso leaves if you like.
5. Pour the alcohol in the jars until there's about an inch of alcohol over the top of the plums.
6. Put the lid on the jar securely and store the plums in a cool, dark place. Shake the jar occasionally to help the sugar mix with the alcohol. After 5 to 6 months, the umeshu is ready to drink. However, this liqueur mellows with age, so you may notice a different flavor after a year or two. Try making a few different batches, and drink one after 6 months, drink the other after a year, and drink the next after 2 years.
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(Images: Kathryn Hill)