The setting is a beautiful 200 year-old Japanese home and the main characters are 4 gracious, patient and fun Japanese women and one curious, but not-so-great-in-the-kitchen American woman. The story line is that these patient Japanese women have the not-so-envious task of teaching the American the centuries old tradition of miso making. The fun begins!
A little background, first. Miso seems to be a staple of the Japanese diet. It consists soybeans missed/mashed along with rice or barley malt and salt into a paste, fermented for a minimum of 10 months and used as a seasoning or base for many kinds of Japanese dishes. There are different colors of miso (white, yellow, red, brown), but I didn’t understand the differences, so I just call them light or dark Miso. (Any reader who understands the differences, please feel free to explain in the comments section).
We arrived at the home of “K”, who was the lead sensei (teacher) for our miso making experience. This 11-room home had an traditional, ornate Japanese roof with sliding doors for the main entrance, several attractive buildings on the property and a topiary crane in front of the main house.
We were escorted inside to a very large entry way and into a main room adorned with artwork of various kinds. I particularly liked a picture of a scene of the Tama River drawn with Japanese calligraphy pens. The many shades of blacks and grays were very interesting and dramatic. Another piece caught my eye…it was a monochromatic artificial flower arrangement. I couldn’t figure out what material was used as I studied the flowers, leaves and stems which were a brownish, translucent color. Then we got to meet the artist, the 88 year-old mother of our hostess, “K,” and we were enlightened – the entire arrangement was made of pig skin!
Back to miso making. We entered the kitchen/dining room area where K had already begun the process by soaking the soybeans for 3 hours and then cooking them (for a long time I would guess). So awaiting us, on the table, was a huge bowl of hot soybeans. We placed spoonfuls of beans into a grinder/mincer device that squished the beans into spaghetti-like strands. The next step was adding a large bag of rice malt (we were making Kome miso) and salt and mixing this together with gloved hands. K added a little of the water remaining from the soybean-boiling to the soybean string mixture until the consistency was just right.
At this point we each took a handful of the mixture and formed each one into a ball. We tossed it back and forth in our hands to remove air. We did get a little carried away with the idea of tossing…throwing!?!?! But we regained our sensibility and after about 8-10 “tosses” we threw the balls into a large glazed ceramic cylindrical container. When we filled 2 containers, K flattened out the mixture and sprinkled salt around the edges and top of the mixture to keep bacteria from getting inside. Plastic wrap was placed tightly on the top of the mixture, weights placed on top and then parchment paper laid over the top of the container rim-to-rim. The container is then placed in a cool, clean location to ferment for at least 10 months.
The process is a day-long one and, in the case of “K,” is performed 3-4 times per year. I survived the lesson, had a great time, enjoyed my friends, believe that the miso will come out fine, but am happy that I don’t have to make miso…I can just pick it up at the supermarket!