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How to Make Japanese Plum Wine

November 27, 2017

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I’ve been super excited to share this project with you all and it’s only been….7 months in the waiting. Hahahahahahah CRIES. But for real, it turned out fantastic so there is nothing for me to cry about. Around April-June in the grocery stores in Japan you’ll start seeing huge jars, boxed shochu, and piles of edible green plums start piling up. Our first year in Japan I really really really wanted to try my hand at making Umeshu but it was a bit too overwhelming. I was determined to step out of my comfort bubble and to try my hand at it this year so I fumbled around the grocery store, bought WAYYYYY too many bags of sugar and nervously headed home on my bicycle. After reading and watching a million guides to making Umeshu I finally just went for it. Turns out it is a lot easier than I expected. The big part is really sanitizing the jars properly but since I used to make jam and jelly with my Grandaddy and Nana, I already knew that this was a critical step not to be messed with.

I hope you can get the chance to try out this recipe, whether it be with Shochu or with a different white alcohol, please let me know how it turns out. Oh also, the key with the Japanese Ume plum is that it is unripe, rock hard, inedibly bitter and sour. If you want to try this with local plums from your country, just make sure you get really unripe plums or the final product may fail. Also, many people make double batches and just open one after 6 months but leave the other to keep steeping for up to one year.

Also, if you don’t want to make a batch the size I did, just follow the instructions of layering the same way I did with whatever size jar you want to use. Just remember, you’ll be waiting a long time for it to be ready so making a tiny batch may not be worth the wait. “Ah yes, I made one glass for a 7 month wait”.

Martina’s Umeshu Recipe 梅酒

5L Jar (washed + sanitized)
2.2lbs (1kg) Japanese Green Ume Plums
1.8L Shochu + extra splash (or other unflavoured white alcohol that has a minimum of 35% alcohol content)
1KG + 1/4cup of Rock Sugar

1. Soak all the plums in a huge bowl of cool water for around 20 minutes.
2. Using scalding hot water (or if you have a dishwasher on mega-super hot death mode but no soap) clean the jar and lids. This is the same rigorous sanitization process that is used for making jam or perseveres.
3. Using shochu or a high-proof alcohol, wipe down the jar and lids again paying special attention to tiny cracks and folds.
4. Scrub the plums for dirt using a brand new sponge and pay attention for any rotten or mouldy looking plums. As you clean the plums, put them onto clean kitchen towel to dry.
5. Using a toothpick or bamboo skewer, pop out the stems.
6. Once the stem is popped out, drop the plum into your now totally sanitized jar.
7. After a layer of plums covers the bottom of the jar, sprinkle on a layer of rock sugar. Continue this process until you’re out of plums.
8. Pour your shochu until the plums are totally submerged. If a plum is sticking out, it will rot.
9. Place your jar in a cool place to steep for 6 months minimum. If you leave it in the fridge, the sugar will never breakdown and the plums won’t properly release their juices so aim for a cool cupboard, shed, or pantry.
10. For the first few days, give the jar a gentle swirl and after that you can leave it alone.
11. When your Umeshu is ready, it should be a light golden colour and there shouldn’t be any chunks of sugar floating in it.

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How to Make Japanese Plum Wine

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  1. Heya Martina, long-time fan first-time commenting to let you know that I finally followed your recipe to make my own umeshu! There’s a backstory you may be interested in: I saw the video as soon as it was posted in 2017 and was intrigued, but in November there was no hope to find the ume even here in the mild climate of North Carolina. Well a few months later in spring 2018, I was wandering down some random garden paths on the huge campus where I now work (I’m a Torontonian temporarily transplanted to the south!) and came across an elderly lady with a cooler and a wagon picking up green oblong fruits from the ground under a stand of trees just off the side of the path. I struck up a convo with her and she told me she was originally from Korea and the fruits were a type of green plums that could be used to make plum wine!! I immediately thought of your video and we chatted about how she makes it; she encouraged me to come back next year to the same spot to pick the fruit when it was at its peak, as by this time it was slim pickings. Well here we are in late May 2019, and I noted it was about this time last year that I came across the Plum Wine Lady. So yesterday I gathered every lidded container in my office, wandered down the path to the trees, and lo and behold: they were LOADED with green plums!! I picked 2lbs in 15 minutes!! They look a bit different from the ones you use in this video: smaller and more oblong (kind of like a green grape), with a sort of very subtle apricot-like fuzz on the skin (less fuzzy than a peach though). I followed your recipe but used a basic vodka instead of shochu (we have an HMart that sells it, but it’s about a 40 min drive away and I wasn’t sure the plums would keep in the fridge til the weekend). Also calculated how to split it into two containers rather than one big one so that I could open one in 6 months and, if successful, age the second one for a full year. I’m so, so excited!! I hope I run into Plum Wine Lady so I can let her know I’m working on a batch this year! (Also funny thing when I was picking the plums: a young lady who looked like an undergrad stopped to chat about what I was doing and I did my most auntie-like thing and passed along the instructions just as Plum Wine Lady had passed along her instructions to me – I hope that kid comes back next year and passes the info along too!!) ANYWAYS this is a long comment but I just wanted to share and to thank you so much for your recipe video! Will let you know in 6 months how it all turns out!!

    8 months ago
  2. I have a strange question I thought you might be able to help me with:
    I make Umeshu – and love it.
    Last year I also tried the recipe using crabapples instead of ume. I’m about to bottle the crabapple liqueur- but what do I call it? :-) Ume = Umeshu. Crabapple = ?
    … does a word for it even exist?

    2 years ago
  3. Plum liquor is super famous in the part of France I grew up in (south-west). I never had it but it feels like it is quite strong, like the kind of thing countryside grandmas would get unsuspicious city folks drunk with… I think it is customary to eat the plums, too. And my grandma used to make fruit preserves in a similar way (plums, pears and cherries if I remember well). Funny how different parts of the world have similar customs!

    2 years ago
  4. Thank you so much for this video! It was so adorable to see how excited you were about your successful umeshu!

    The plums on my tree are almost at the right stage for making your recipe. (I’m in Australia.) I can make something different this year instead of eating nothing but plum jam all year! XD

    (I met my husband thanks to umeshu, too. I owe it a lot. And I love Cooking with Dog. This video was just too perfect!)

    2 years ago
  5. Nice job on the plum wine!! I would like to mention though that seeing jars in a bar with weird things floating in them can ALSO refer to something else which I actually tried one night. It was a wicked evil thing though.

    Buddy of mine to me to a bar in Yokosuka that was known for its jars. The most famous jar didn’t have fruit in it. It had a cobra in it … and sake. Its called Habu (snake) Sake. The steeping of the cobra gives it a hallucinogenic additive. Should you chose to ever partake this (and it doesn’t taste that bad – like sake with a tinge of maybe gin) ONLY HAVE ONE DRINK … maybe share it with someone. My buddy and I each had two. That was not a good idea. I’m not going to explain other than to say that a number of folks marveled to us later that we didn’t get arrested for public intoxication. I remember nothing after I started on the second glass.

    2 years ago
  6. Congratulations Martina, you did it! Last summer U tried to make dried tomatoes and I failed so I was happy to see you succeed in making your wine. I think it’s thanks to polish spirytus ratyfikowany xD

    I think that I’ve seen this wine in supermarket so I have to try it now.

    2 years ago
  7. I tried umeshu a couple of years ago and it was way way way too sweet. Ice and sparkling water helped, but ultimately not a me thing.

    A couple of years ago I used a similar recipe with cherries and vodka. See note above about way way way and not me.

    When you are in Italy try some Limoncello. Similar technique but with some special lemon. I worked in an Italian restaurant and my boss let me try some fancy brand he had and it was lovely. I bought a commercial brand at the liquor store and see note above.

    I do like the rock sugar tip though.

    It was nice to see Martina’s genuine happiness and excitement.

    2 years ago
  8. I love plum wine so I can’t wait to try this! Loved the video too ^.^ You should just make a cooking channel so I can watch Martina’s Midnight Munchies all the time <3

    2 years ago
  9. WAHHH! I want to try. Great job Martina.

    2 years ago
  10. It makes me so emotional too see and hear such a genuine happiness. Reminds me of why I’m living: to get those little feelings of accomplishment between everything big and crazy. It’s crazy how sometimes the smallest thing is the most important one and how nervous you can get over the most trivial things. Then you feel like: “If I can get this right, there is nothing I can’t tackle”. And when you get it right, it’s delightfully overwhelming. It’s the best high.

    Thank you Martina, your smile made my day #buildaladder

    2 years ago
    • I’m glad you feel that way. I sometimes worry that our message of building a ladder is laughed at by some who think it’s easy to build a ladder when you’re traveling the world – and traveling is not possible for many – but there’s more to building a ladder than that. Something as small as just getting a recipe right can give you a great sense of accomplishment and help you through tough times. And Martina’s had a really tough week. Getting this recipe right is a big win for her.

      2 years ago
  11. This sounds delicious, I have to try it this spring/summer! That rock sugar is cool, probably really helps keep the plums below the surface too. You can make juice this way too. I usually make grape juice this way when we have too many grapes (sterilize big jars in the dish washer, add grapes, sugar, and water, and end up with grape juice concentrate 2 months later, works with frozen grapes too – 3 years and still hasn’t turned into wine though ;) ). I find watching “Cooking with Dog” kind of creepy, but their recipes are great. We started using their Menchi Katsu recipe after watching your video on it and they are easy and delicious to make at home :)

    2 years ago
    • Aren’t they just adorable? I love cooking with dog. I was very upset when Francis died :( That grape juice recipe sounds SUPER COOL! I’ve never thought of doing that before! *Martina rubs her chin in thought*

      2 years ago
      • Here is a good recipe below. I just sanitize the jars and lids in the dishwasher and use them while they’re still hot and I’ve never had a problem with jars cracking or sealing. I don’t use a hot water bath because the grapes are from my garden and frankly, it’s overkill if you clean well. Hella easier and FASTER than cooking down the grapes, straining, etc. You can use the concentrate to make jelly later if you don’t want to drink it all. http://headspacecanning.blogspot.ca/2013/09/grape-juice-concentrate.html

        2 years ago
  12. I am a huuuuuge fan of umeshu! A friend introduced me to it when I first moved to Japan and now it’s one of my favorite liquors! I always drink it when I go out for shabu shabu or at an Izakaya. But I always have mine with soda so maybe I should try it on the rocks sometime. I also want to try to make it myself sometime in the future now…

    2 years ago
    • When you have it on the rocks it starts out stronger and then slowly becomes diluted as the night goes on so I find it to transform from strong to juice haha. It’s nice, give it a go!

      2 years ago