The 3 amigas have been at it again! My friend and assistant, Chie Ehara, invited me and Elsa Tian over to her home in Arlington, Massachusetts to pick cherry blossoms from the huge tree in her yard. The plan was to preserve them in salt to use throughout the year in tea, mochi (sweet rice cakes) and to top onigiri, (rice balls). Yes they are edible. In Japan they are crazy for these blossoms and for the brief time they appear it is virtually pink fever. There are flower viewing picnics, pastries, ice cream, perfume, you name it all in homage to the cherry blossom. And when they finish they float to the ground creating a thick carpet of petals.
It has been a cold Spring and the cherry blossoms were a bit late this year. It was a chilly day in May when Chie climbed a ladder looking for the best blossoms. Elsa and I stayed on the ground providing support!
We needed 200 grams for the recipe, which is well over 500 blossoms. They are really light!
The perfect blossom would be 3/4 open, but we picked whatever we could reach.
The beautiful pink hued blossoms were host to slew of tiny white inch-worms, that were hiding inside the petals, when they weren’t trying to escape from us!
That is just the first part of this production number. The washing of all those flowers was next and it was the really hard part as we had to rinse each blossom and get rid of dirt and those little buggers. We set a big bowl in the sink and loaded it, in batches, with flowers and started gently rinsing them; placing them in a colander and then rinsing them again and again; a total of 3 times. What? You want to bite into pickled worm?
After the first rinse…….
Until there was almost no detritus on the bottom of the bowl, dead or alive.
We then laid the flowers out on paper towels
topped it with another paper towel and patted them dry-ish.
Then into a one-gallon zip top bag with a little salt
and rolled and compressed the air out and zipped it shut.
We were finally done with Phase I. PHEW!! Before we left with the bag of VERY CLEAN blossoms and instructions for Phase II, Chie’s son Seiji came home with a Mother’s Day card he had made in nursery school. He adores her. His big sister Ibuki was not yet home.
Chie gave me a 4 page set of instructions in Japanese, which we reduced to several sentences written on the top of the bag and I went home to begin Phase II which would last for 7 days.
First came the 1st weighting of the blossoms. I laid the bag on the counter and set my friend Corky White’s recently re-released cookbook on top then weight-ed (haha) 2 days.
After which I added rice vinegar, set a lighter weight on top for an additional 4 days
and they came out looking like this.
I drained the flowers of the considerable liquid they had emitted and set them between layers of paper toweling and dabbed them dry.
I was supposed to let them air dry for a few days, but somehow missed that step and went right to layering them in fine-grained sea salt.
They are now in the refrigerator and ready to use. They can last for more than a year. Before consuming them the salted blossoms are rinsed and briefly soaked in water. They have a distinctive subtle floral flavor, unmistakeable and cherry-ish with a dash of salt. This is a photo of a rice ball with the blossom on top that I made with commercially packed cherry blossoms I bought in Japan in January. NOW I know why they are so darn expensive!! If you look carefully you can see the little jar in the background.
Elsa set the pink petals in her hibiscus tea; isn’t that pretty?
Was it worth it? Yes! Painstaking– but definitely worth all the effort to be able to reach for a cherry blossom all year round, especially in the grips of a dreary New England winter.