The Japanese have a word, shun 旬, to define the period during which a type of food is in season and at the at the height of perfection. Shun foods simply taste better and the Japanese know it. The foods in season during our recent visit included sublime strawberries, watermelon, cherries, raspberries, asparagus, tomatoes, ayu 鮎, sweetfish, and anago 穴子 sea eel on sushi. It was all fantastic. More than once we were told that Jemimah couldn't have her favourite ikura イクラ salmon roe sushi because it wasn't the season. You could buy it in the supermarkets, but it wouldn't taste perfect and therefore they wouldn't sell it! It wasn't shun.
Until quite recently we all ate foods in season. Without modern methods of preservation and fast efficient modes of transport, we relied on products grown locally for the bulk of our food and stewed, preserved or cellared the rest to 'see us through the winter. Our the world has shrunk. Today we have a globalised food market and with it comes the convenience of buying any food at any time of the year.
The payoff is taste.
We may be able to buy tomatoes in the supermarkets year round, but the pale watery specimens of winter fail miserably in their attempts to stand up against the warm red luscious summer tomatoes of our kitchen garden. Likewise strawberries, asparagus and stone fruits. It seems that ikura is the same, and so good sushi restaurants in Japan don't sell it in May. If it's not shun it's not for sale. I like it.
Back at home in wintery Australia food is shun too. The pumpkin harvest has been a good one; likewise the silverbeet and broccoli are flourishing. Stews, hotpots and casseroles surely must be shun foods in winter, so must be apple-pies, soups and macaroni cheese. Oishi 大石 !!
We took advantage of this past weekend to get well into the way of a truly shun Aussie winter. If you'd been a fly on the wall of our parlour this past few days you'd have seen me occupied in one or more of the the following truly wintery season activities:
- Snuggling under a pile of mohair and angora rugs and reading my wonderful living book, Kyoto - A Cultural History by John Dougill.
- Joining my crochet granny rug using the method described here. You can see a pic of the work in progress above. Do tell me what you think!
- Baking and eating apple pie with shortbread pastry and icecream to make it extra wicked.
- Cheering Jemimah's minkey hockey game from the sidelines.
- Listening to our new Japanese CD purchases including this, this, this, and this.
- Cutting up a friend's homegrown pumpkins to make enough pumpkin soup for a week of warming winter lunches.
- Drinking a fine bottle of Aussie 2001 vintage Shiraz Cabernet with my beloved.
- Reading aloud The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice with a little appropriate editing on the fly to make it appropriate for Miss 8.
- Preparing and eating that wonder winter standby, Macaroni Cheese - the advanced version, full of things like Worcestershire sauce, mustard, vegies and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Heart attack in a pan, this one - just like the best winter foods!
- Chatting to a good overseas friend for 2 1/2 hours in Facebook chat.
- Eating Vegemite on sourdough toast with lashings of butter cooked piece-by-piece over the crackling wood fire in the living room. Mmmm, definitely shun.
- Freezing half to death on Sunday morning in a suddenly powerless church and smiling wryly at all the puns about a church with no power but full of The Power. Yeah, yeah, I know...
- Best of all, cuggling with my wonderful family. (A Cuggle for those who don't know is midway between a cuddle and a hug. Obviously.)
So seasonality. What to you do to celebrate the seasons where you live?
How was your weekend? Do tell.
I'll leave you with this video from The Visit Japan Campaign about seasonality and kaiseki cuisine: