Friday, May 18, 2012

Seasonal eating in Japan

Here's some excepts from a book that's good to return to every now and then, The One Straw Revolution by th' late Masanobu Fukuoka.

Masanobu Fukuoka
 One problem is that in western nutritional science there is no effort to adjust the diet to the natural cycle. The diet that results serves to isolate human beings from  nature. A fear of nature and a general sense of insecurity are often the unfortunate results....

Edible herbs and wild vegetables, plants growing on the mountain and in the meadow, are very high in nutritional value and are also useful as medicine. Food and medicine are not two different things, they are the front and back of one body. Chemically grown vegetables may be eaten for food, but they cannot be used as medicine.

     From early spring, when the seven herbs sprout forth from the earth, the farmer can  taste seven flavors. To go along with these are the delicious flavors of pond snails, sea clams, and turban shellfish.
     The season of green arrives in march. Horsetail, bracken, mugwort, osmund, and other mountain plants, and or course the young leaves of persimmon and peach trees and the sprouts of mountain yams can all be eaten. Possessing a light, delicate flavor, they make delicious tempura and can also be used as seasonings.  At the seashore, sea vegetables such as kelp, nori, and rockweed are delicious and abundant during the spring months.
    When the bamboo sends up it's young shoots, grey rock cod, sea bream, and striped pig fish are at their most delicious. The iris blossom season is celebrated with the slender ribbon fish and mackerel sashimi. Green peas, snow peas, lima beans, and fava beans are delicious eaten right from the pod or boiled with whole grains such as brown rice, wheat, barley.
     Toward the end of the rainy season, Japanese plums are salted away, and strawberries and raspberries can be gathered in abundance. At this time it is natural that the body begins to desire the crisp flavor of scallions together with watery fruits such as loquats, apricots, and peaches. The loquat's fruit is not the only part of the plant which can be eaten. The seed can be ground into "coffee,"  and when the leaves are brewed to make tea it is among the finest of medicines. The mature leaves of peach and persimmon trees produce a tonic for longevity.
     Beneath the bright midsummer sun, eating melons and licking honey in the shade of a big tree is a favorite pastime. The many summer vegetables such as carrot, spinach, radish, and cucumber become ripe and ready for harvesting. The body also needs vegetable or sesame oil to hold off summer sloth.
     If you call it mysterious, then mysterious it is that the winter grain harvested in spring goes well with the decreased summertime appetite,  and so in summer barley noodles of various sizes and shapes are prepared often. Buckwheat grain is harvested in summer. It is an ancient wild plant and a food which goes well with this season.
     Early fall is a happy season, with soybeans and small red azuki beans, many fruits, vegetables, and various yellow grains all ripening at the same time. Millet cakes are enjoyed at the autumn moon viewing celebrations. Parboiled soybeans are served along with taro potatoes.  As autumn deepens, maize, and rice steamed with red beans, matsutake mushrooms, or chestnuts are enjoyed often. Most important, the rice which has absorbed the sun's rays all summer long ripens in the fall. This means that a staple food which can be plentifully obtained and is rich in calories is provided for the cold winter months.
     At first frost one feels like looking in on the fish-broilers stand. Deep water blue fish such as yellowtail and tuna can be caught during this season. It is interesting that the japanese radish and the leafy vegetables abundant during this season go well with these fish.
     The new years holiday food is prepared largely from food which has been pickled and salted away for the great celebration. Salted samon, herring eggs, red sea bream, lobster, kelp, and black beans have been served every year at this feast for many centuries.
     Digging the radishes and turnips which have been left in the ground, covered with a blanket of soil and snow, is an enjoyable experience during the winter season. Grains and various beans grown during the year and miso and soy sauce are staples always on hand. Along with the cabbages, radishes, and squash, and sweet potatoes stored in the autumn, a variety of foods are available during the months of bitter cold.  Leeks, and wild scallions go well with the delicate flavor of oysters and sea cucumbers which can be gathered then. Waiting for spring to arrive, one catches sight of colt's foot shoots and the edible leaves of the creeping strawberry geranium peeping out of the snow. With the return of watercress, shepherd's purse, chickweed, and the other wild herbs, a garden of natural spring vegetables can be harvested beneath the kitchen window.
     Thus, by following a humble diet, gathering the foods of various seasons from close at hand, and savoring their wholesome and nourishing flavor, the local villagers accept what nature provides....
    A natural diet lies right at ones feet.


  1. second time someone referenced fukuoka san for me in one week...hmmmm...maybe it's time to pick his books up again. read them many years ago. thanks rico.

  2. Maybe I shoud "check my Email box" more often...Interesting post, I have never heard of this gentleman before. Too many things are available year round, many of it is inferior, mostly tasteless quality. It's not that long ago we looked forward to having strawberries in season, now you can get the things all the time. It's not a good thing. We don't appreciate it so much now, and no-one sees the real costs.