Spent ume and red shiso sorbet
We sleep with every window thrown open wide in hopes that the cool evening air will fill the house by morning. The nights are quiet but for a few crickets and the occasional owl hooting into a dark sky. But come daybreak the cicadas fire up and scream at the rising sun. My eyes open at 5 am to their alarm. It’s still too early so I drift in and out of hazy slumber until daylight fills the room. By then the cicadas have settled into a steady din that reverberates through the air all day.
Cicadas are loud. It still startles me sometimes. I’ve had to cover my ears a time or two when passing under a thickly populated tree. I could do without the noise, but there is one cicada whose call I love, the evening cicada known as higurashi. They trill a tune that is at once hopeful and melancholy. The song of the higurashi encapsulates this past year and more in which we’ve been isolated in our respective corners of the word. There have been many hopeful moments, moments of peace in appreciating the pause, space in which to organize thoughts and reorganize priorities. There have also been long moments of melancholy, mourning mobility and missing the friends and family who live afar.
But make hay while the sun shines, they say, and the summer sun is high in the sky. It’s time to pull the ume from their brine and dry them outside. It’s time to check on the ume syrup and extract the fruits from the sweet syrup. It’s time to use up the last of the red shiso juice that’s on the verge of fermenting in the fridge. Which means it’s time to make spent ume red shiso sorbet.
Spent ume red shiso sorbet was my triumphant creation last summer. Seeking respite from the heat I found any reason I could to visit Kuniko’s cool pantry, to feel the conditioned air on my skin and cold tiles on my bare feet. I reorganized and labeled. I found a few vintages of overlooked umeshu on a back shelf with shriveled fruits still floating in the darkening syrup. I strained them, placing the syrup in bottles and the spent ume, with skins wrinkled and soft, in a jar. They seemed too good to discard, their flesh sweetened from months of floating in sweet syrup. As is, they could make for a lovely sweet treat on a hot afternoon, but I felt they could be more. Remembering the jellied consistency of the brine in so many jars of umeboshi, I thought these spent ume might just be a pectin bomb that could add some nice body to the icy sorbet I had tried to make with leftover red shiso juice. And boy did they ever. I’ve never had a sorbet with more substance, as rich and creamy as a full fat ice cream but made with only the flesh of a few spent ume blended into red shiso juice and frozen in an ice cream machine. The taste of summer on a spoon.