I love finding ways to preserve seasonal flavors so I can enjoy them all year long. One way I do this is by making fruit-infused liqueurs. Uméshu (梅酒), or “plum wine” is made in this manner, by soaking umé fruit and rock sugar in shochu. The problem with this method is that it uses alcohol as a solvent to extract the flavors from the fruit. This is fine for making cocktails, but not very useful for other purposes, and it obviously can’t be consumed by children.
I’ve recently discovered a far more versatile way to preserve the essence of seasonal fruit by using just sugar. In the same way that salt draws liquid out of fruits and vegetables through osmosis, sugar can also extract a fruit’s juices. This creates an ultra-concentrated syrup that can be cut with water to make a juice; poured on pancakes or yogurt; or even used as a flavorful sweetener for marinades and sauces.
Umé is a member of the Prunus genus, and although it’s often translated as “plum”, umé is actually more closely related to apricots. They come into season in late spring and early summer and although they can be a bit hard to find in the US, I have seen them at large Japanese grocery stores when they’re in season, and because the umé tree has stunning pink blossoms, they’re planted all over the world as a decorative tree. The fruit itself is very tart and astringent which makes them inedible fresh, but they have a wonderful fragrance that can be unleashed by turning them into uméboshi, or extracting their juice.
Red shiso is the herb added to make uméboshi red, and I love adding it to my uméshu both for its color and fragrance. In this syrup it’s imbued a deep blush, while contributing a warm herbal flavor that compliments the floral fragrance of the umé beautifully. If you can’t find red shiso near you, you can omit it, or go with some other herb.
To speed things up, I used the same method that I use for making fruit liqueurs and froze the umé first. This accelerates the process by damaging the cell walls in the fruit, giving you a good yield of umé syrup in about two weeks. Because there is no heat applied, the fragrance remains unchanged.
As for the umé, it’s given up most of its liquid, so it ends up with a texture like dried fruit. Loath to waste anything, I ended up tossing the spent fruit in a pot with some sugar and water and cooked it until it was tender enough to remove the seeds, turning it into a jam.
Once you have your syrup you can make umé juice by mixing 1 part umé syrup with 4 parts still or sparkling water, and then adding ice. For those of you that love uméshu you can make a fresh version by mixing 1 part umé syrup with 2 parts shochu, and then enjoy it on the rocks, or with a splash of soda water.
I haven’t tried this method with other fruit yet, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work with stone fruit such as apricots, cherries, plums, and peaches. I also think it should work with other fruit in general, such as strawberries or melon.
red shiso leaves only
Put the ume in a freezer bag and freeze for at least 24 hours.
Remove the umé from the freezer and add the rock sugar and shiso to the bag.
Seal the bag and place it in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
At the end of the 2 weeks, you can strain the syrup, pressing on the solids to get as much liquid out as you can.
Store the syrup in the refrigerator.