Sakura No Shiozuke
A beautiful Sunday morning in May. The blossoms arrived in a woven basket hanging off the arm of Jeffrey Stoneberger who arrived at The Shop with his usually flurry of activity. Out of the basket the blossoms swayed on branches, ethereal and cloud like, in a shifting range of pink to white, petals drifting down to the table top.
What to do with them? Kombucha for sure.
What else? How does one capture the delicate in its profound and fleeting moment?
The Japanese have a tradition of preserving cherry blossoms in salt. Sakura no shiozuke.
The technique is a bit of a departure for us. At the shop we create acids. This called for adding one: vinegar. As it happened, Jeffrey also brought with him an exquisite pear-sake vinegar that he had crafted with all the love and care that characterizes his work. The project seemed fated.
The next morning, while plucking blossoms for an infusion we would ferment with a kombucha SCOBY, I put aside many of the tight pink buds and the vibrant and sturdy newly opened blossoms. I salted and pressed them for three days. Such an incongruous treatment of these delicate structures. On the third day, I drained off the modicum of brine that had developed and mixed the blossoms with a small amount of the pear-sake vinegar. They sat in the fridge for a week. I then laid them out to dry on a rack for a day.
A moment of textural give. A hint of spring. Floral then gone. A touch of acid on the tongue.
The salinity lingers.
I repacked them in salt for the future.
Two weeks later I was bottling cherry blossom kombucha. I carefully placed the blossoms, that had fermented in the kombucha, into the bottles with chopsticks. Across from me sat two of my favorite people to come into The Shop, Kyle and Katina Connaughton, who had come in for a visit and were doing a tasting of our tsukemono. Kyle was scheduled to cook at a benefit in New York for the Edible School Yard. He would be cooking with a number of other notable chefs in an effort to raise money so that the city’s children may have a garden in their schools that they could sow and reap from during some pretty formative years. Establishing connection. Eighteen years ago, when Alice Waters launched the Edible School Yard Project, the flagship garden was to be located at King Middle School in Berkeley. We had just left the farm and were living with Alex’s parents. We had no jobs and our son Keiran was 4 months in utero. Both Alex and I applied for the position of project manager for the fledgling garden. Neither one of us got an interview. Needless to say it has grown way beyond any scope and vision I may have had as a scared and unsettled twenty-five year old. All for the best, as it turns out we had other things to do. Kyle wanted to bring some tsukemono to New York with him. He asked if I had any sakura no shiozuke to give up. I did, and the following week he used them to garnish a sashimi dish, on the other side of the country, for a very worthy cause.
This here is the sweet spot. To make a tiny gesture to preserve a moment in time, all that made it possible and all its possibilities.
300 grams Cherry Blossoms
3 tbsp salt
3 tbsp vinegar