Foodist, Mackey Makimoto met the Tsugaru Akatsuki no Kai

Japan, the island country which is slender and long, extending north to south. Small, but beautiful land with full of rich nature and blessed with pure water here and there. Delicious things have been developed from beautiful sceneries. In this series, we will introduce delectables originated from landscapes in Japan, which cannot be found in big cities.

Don’t let ancient wisdom die out. Moms in Tsugaru hold out.

I’m not from Tsugaru, nor have ever lived in Tsugaru.  But every dish I ate tasted nostalgic, and embraced my heart arousing my distant memories. It was when I had meals prepared by the “Tsugaru Akatsuki no Kai”, a rural group of female farmers in the Ishikawa district of Hirosaki-city. The “Tsugaru Akatsuki no Kai” (meaning Tsugaru Early Morning Sun Association) is an organization led by Ms. Ryoko Kudo to cook and serve local cuisines of Tsugaru. The group brings down to the present ancestors’ wisdom on which time and effort have been spent. When I visited one of their houses, about 10 mothers in cooking coats were working on respective dishes.

“Boil ingredients in a big pot, peel them, soak them overnight in water to remove harshness, sprinkle salt on them, squeeze them, and coat them with bran and salt for preservation. Well, put lots of salt and place a very heavy stone as a weight. It will be ready in three months.”

In this way, these mothers explained in a bland tone how to cook dishes and to prepare preserved foods.Vegetables, grains, and beans for the ingredients are grown by themselves. No chemical seasonings nor soup mix available in the market are certainly used.

“Chemical additives are not necessary. If healthy soil is arranged, you can have good umami (or taste) from fresh vegetables.”

Until the middle of Showa era, I hear that women in farming households of Tsugaru had gathered for every ceremony, rice-planting and other occasions, and cooked dishes to entertain their guests. However, such customs have been gradually discontinued, and dishes which have come down at each household were fading away. If it goes on like this, traditional foods will disappear from Tsugaru.Ms. Ryoko Kudo and other volunteers decided to get together. They have been interviewing old residents in the district, cooking, and teaching each other. Their activities go on.

“Women in Tsugaru are AKB.”

AKB stands for a set of Accha (meaning an elder sister), Kaccha (meaning a mother), and Baccha (meaning a grandmother). Experienced Baccha acts as a supreme commander, Kaccha cooks and Accha learns while working under them.

Such tradition still takes root in the “Akatsuki no Kai”.

Preservative foods sustained the happiness and health of Tsugaru people

Cooking were completed from one dish to another in boisterous voices. Soon eighteen kinds of dishes were set on the table. Let me introduce them in detail.

Kemame Gohan” (meaning edamame rice) – Moving my face to the dish, the sweet scent of edamame wraps me. People say it is indispensable rice to the fall table. “Nimono” (meaning simmered dishes) – Japanese butterburs, dried cods, green beans, carrots, Koyadofu (meaning freeze-dried bean curd), and Konnyaku (or known as Devil’s tongue). It’s tasty, as the sweetness of dried cods oozes out in my mouth while chewing crunchy Japanese butterburs well.

Nishin-izushi” (meaning fermented herrings) – It’s “Sagohachizuke”. It is said herrings have been pickled in the paste made of salt 30%, Koji (meaning malted rice) 50%, and rice 80% since last winter.

Igamenchi” – It is a popular dish known as an iconic food of Hirosaki. Fried dumplings made of squid and cabbage taste mild, as the umami of squid and the sweetness of cabbage are nicely met.

Nanbazuke” (meaning green chilis, Konbu seaweed, cucumbers, Kinoko mushrooms, and edible chrysanthemums pickled in Koji and soy sauce) – It’s a fine dish of the umami of Koji, sticky Konbu seaweed, and juicy vegetables coming together in an embrace.

Sasage no Dengaku” – Black-eyed peas and Myoga ginger are tossed in home-made Miso (meaning fermented soybean paste) after being stir-fried and boiled in broth. It has a hearty taste.

Shungiku Goma-ae” (meaning garland chrysanthemum dressed with sesame sauce) – a variety of “Sagohachizuke”. Quite thick “Mizu” (meaning edible wild plants) are crisp when they are chewed but get sticky in my mouth.

Kemame no Tsukemono” (meaning edamame pickles) – These are crunchy, but the sweetness oozes out little by little. 

Kabocha ItokoniFully ripen pumpkins are sweet with light dry texture. They match with gentle sweetness of Adzuki beans.

Sanma no Damakkojiru” – Pounded sauries are stirred with home-made Miso to make dumplings to be served in soup.

Samenamasu” – Boiled shark meats and Daikon (meaning Japanese white radishes) are coated with mixture of vinegar and some other flavoring.  

“Cucumbers with Myoga and Perilla seeds in sweetened vinegar”, “pickles – cucumbers, apples, Kemame, eggplants, and Takuan (meaning yellow pickled radish)”, and “Kuri no Shibukawani” (meaning sweetened chestnuts of boiled coating having astringent inner skins).

The winter of Aomori is harsh. For that reason, a lot of preserved foods have progressed. Affluent non-perishable foods are the accumulation of wisdom to survive the winter. In the end, I dropped in a hut for the nonperishables. There were many barrels in which vegetables and fishes were quietly pickled under stone weights. Surrounded by sour aromas unique to lactobacilli, they were waiting patiently in the wings.

マッキー牧元

WRITER マッキー牧元

1955年東京出身。㈱味の手帖 取締役編集顧問 タベアルキスト。日本国内、海外を、年間600食ほど食べ歩き、雑誌、テレビなどで食情報を発信。「味の手帖」「朝日新聞WEB」「料理王国」「食楽」他連載多数。三越日本橋街大学講師、日本鍋奉行協会顧問。最新刊は「出世酒場」集英社刊。

Photographs by Mika Hirose  Text by Mackey Makimoto

更新: 2018年11月15日

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