Have you heard of the term Dog days of summer? A period in the farmers almanac from July 3rd- August 11th. This is a term used to describe the hottest sultry days. This is a time when the sun occupies the same region of sky as Sirius the brightest visible star in the night sky that’s rises and sets with the sun. Sirius also known as the Dog Star and is part of the constellation Canis Major. This star was connected with heat draught and sudden storms.
We seam to spend a lot of the summer looking up into the sky in Japan. Maybe to view the spectacular fireworks that explode in the summer sky or to witness the form of the fluffiest of summer cumulonimbus clouds that signify a down pour might be on its way. The clouds even even has a sub micro season named after them Taiu tokidoki furu ( Great rains sometimes fall). The whole micro season is called Taisho meaning Greater Heat and you can read more about this in my separate micro season posts. As the temperatures start to climb we are reminded once more by scents, feelings sounds and images that evoke memories of the changing seasons. This is known in Japan as Fuubutsushi. What does summer in Japan mean to you? I think like every season we are aware of Mono no aware “the pathos of things” basically the awareness of impermanence. Every season you are made aware of the powerful emotions associated with the changing seasons. From the cherry blossoms of spring to the kouyou colours of autumn. It is the key part of helping us centre on the hear and now and celebrate each season with the passing of time. Summer in Japan brings with it its own impermanence. The sounds of cicadas is a quintessential sound that signifies summer is here. Cicadas live for seven years underground before escaping to the surface only to live but a short seven days above ground. The Hasu or lotus flower pops open in the early morning dew like the fireworks that are over so quickly the blooms of the lotus last but four days. In Buddhism the impermanence of life states we should use this to let go of attachments. Maybe the way to appreciate life to its fullest means we concentrate on the hear and now allowing each day to be lived in the moment.
The cooling sounds of summer are felt by the tinkling of a fuurin “Japanese wind chime” when a sound is heard people know there is a light cool breeze. After the blistering heat of the day it is tradition in Japan to enjoy the cooler evenings maybe by taking a walk to watch fireflies in the early twilight or watch the sunset with a glass of sake after a evening bath. This is a habit called Yusuzumi “enjoying coolness by looking at things”.
Uchimizu is another practice originating from the sado tea ceremony. It is the act of enjoying the sprinkle of water on a stoney path. The act causes vaporisation and decreases the ground temperature. You may in the summer see shop keepers also do this outside their businesses.
Summer brings a sense of nostalgia in Japan it is known as Natsukashii. I remember long hot days that seamed to never end as a child, riding bikes, climbing trees, making dens, playing with newts in the pond, (I was a bit of a Tom boy ) but they were good memories and simple pleasures.
As the crops begin to turn golden and sunflowers (Himawari) dance their sunny heads in the fields (another symbol of summer) the obon festival is almost upon us, a time to remember family and friends that have past over from this world. For a short time it is said they visit us again and join us in dance and song until it is time to say farewell for another year.
Summer brings many eagerly awaited produce at the markets and “Shun” refers to the time they are at peak season. Enjoy the bounty of nature that summer brings us edamame, suica, Goya,eggplant, cucumber, okra and sweet bell peppers are all perfect right now . When you see fresh corn at the market why not pick some up to make this summer rice dish.
Using corn on the cob with vegan butter to make a Japanese summer favourite sweetcorn rice bursts with the flavour of summer. The secret is to use fresh corn not the tinned variety. Rinse your rice like you would normally and add this to your rice cooker or pan. For one rice cooker cup add one rice cooker cup of water and two teaspoons of soy sauce or tamari. Leave to soak for a few hours. Cut off the corn from the cob and add this to the top of your rice but do not mix and place the cobs on top you may need to cut them in half to fit them in. Cook your rice and when done take out the cobs and add fresh ground pepper and vegan butter. Cover the lid and let the rice steam and butter melt. When ready to serve fluff up the rice mixing the rice and corn together. If you have made any furikake this is perfect to sprinkle on top.
I decided to grow some of my own vegetables this year and I have taken great pleasure in going out each morning checking up on the progress of growth each day.
I decided to grow Mizuna and Mibuna mustard greens, both considered Kyoyasai “green treasures of Kyoto “ there are 37 varieties documented as kyoyasai and have played a key role for centuries in the food culture of Kyoto. Mibuna a close sibling of mizuna received its name from the Mibu- dera temple. I grew mizuna for salads as it contains 10 times more vitamin C and 3 times more fibre than lettuce and Mibuna to use like spinach. I also grew Kabu and daikon radish. I think I’d like to go into more detail in another blog post about Kyoyasai at some point, but for now would love to share a simple recipe with you for daikon furikake.
Furikake is a Japanese condiment often sprinkled on top of cooked rice. Shop bought ones can often not be vegan as they may consist of dried fish. For the first time ever as I was growing my own daikon I had daikon leaves to enjoy as well. Daikon do not often come with leaves attached in the U.K. which is a real shame as the leaves are delicious blanched and eaten like spinach or are wonderful chopped up and just mixed into warm rice.
As I had an abundance of daikon leaves I picked them to make easy furikake.
Pick and wash the leaves, then blanch for a few minutes in boiling salted water.
Have a bowl of ice water ready and plunge the boiled leaves straight into the water to avoid any extra cooking.
Remove from the water and shake off excess then pat dry with some kitchen towel.
Bunch up the leaves and chop finely, then spread out onto some parchment paper on a baking sheet.
Place them in the oven and dry out on your ovens lowest setting until they become dry.
Remove from the oven and grind in a Japanese grinding bowl known as a suribachi. (More about this in a bit ).
I decided to add toasted white sesame seeds and goma shio black sesame seeds and salt to mine, I then put them in a jar to use on top of rice.
Now the suribachi bowl and surikogi wood pestle is the Japanese equivalent of a mortar and pestle and is used in Japan to crush and grind ingredients like toasted sesame seeds for instance. The bowl is glazed on the outside and has a rough pattern on the inside called Kushi-no-me. You could use this for making a sesame dressing for spinach called goma-ae or a mashed tofu dish called shira-ae both of these can be found on my recipe pages.
I had received from nama yasai farm some kinome the leaves from the Japanese sansho and decided to use my suribachi to crush the leaves to make a pesto.
All I did was add the sansho leaves to the bowl and added some other leaves like basil and peppery nasturtium and started to crush them.
Then add some oily nuts this could be in the form of walnuts or pine nuts and again start to grind them add a little olive oil and a pinch of salt as it all starts to combine.
If you like you can add more ingredients like maple syrup or sesame paste maybe some soy sauce. Even some Yuzu juice would be nice. Experiment to see what you like and add this to pasta or a potato salad. Another similar thing you can do is grind toasted walnuts and then mix in some sun dried tomatoes with some of the oil they come with for another kind of pesto.
As well as the mizuna Mibuna Kabu and daikon I am growing two kinds of pumpkin Kuri and Kabocha. Did you know that everything is edible from the flesh and seeds to the flowers and leaves. I decided to use some of the pumpkin leaves as wraps.
Steaming the leaves then adding some of the pesto I had made with tofu and finally wrapping the tofu up with the leaf.
One of the things being a new vegetable grower I didn’t realise about pumpkins is they have male and female flowers and rely on bee pollination for you to get pumpkins . If the female which looks like this
isn’t pollinated the small pumpkins will not grow and will just wither and die. You can help this along by using a soft brush and collect pollen from the male and brush it onto the female.
I actually found this out quite late but luckily I have a few starting to grow.
It’s all nature but sometimes it helps to give it a helping hand.
The last thing I have been growing is shiso a healthy Japanese herb, be it red or green they both have health benefits. The green leaves are often used with sushi as they have antibacterial qualities and are also good to help stomach upsets. Shiso also has a high iron and calcium content. Good for the respiratory tract and immunity I think that shiso is definitely something people should be using more of especially with things as they are at the moment. Related to the mint family shiso is also known as perilla. So what can you do with it ? How about steeping a few leaves in boiling water to make a relaxing tea. You can even make a pesto like the ones I mentioned above just use 1 cup of shiso leaves and grind with lemon a pinch of salt olive oil and nuts ( pine or walnuts) . I decided to make a red shiso syrup, I had been seeing it a lot served in the summer mixed with ice and soda as a cooling summer drink in Japan and wanted to give this a try.
Depending on how big your red shiso plant is you might be able to make more. I used 24grm of washed shiso leaves.
Add these to a pan with 300ml of water and bring to the boil. Add 4 tablespoons of sugar and boil until the sugar dissolves and the leaves turn green and your water purple.
Then add two tablespoons of lemon juice this will make the colour really pop. Drain and leave to cool . It’s as simple as that. Add a little to a glass with ice and soda or use as a topping drizzled over ice cream or kakigori. My only regret is not growing more as this tastes amazing . Next year for sure !
What are the things you remember most about summers in Japan? We know they are notoriously hot and humid and there are many things people do to help overcome the heat, like eating kakigori shaved ice, using a Uchiwa paddle fan or wearing a light cotton yukata. All of these along with the summer firework festivals make summer just that little bit more bearable.
As the nights are noticeably getting shorter we can grasp on to the final rays of sun until the cicadas sing their final song and we say good bye to the swallows until next year and hello to autumn.