Sunday, September 13, 2009


SHISO BUD RELISH


What an appetantalizing fragrance fills the house, a fragrance of a cinnamony nature, from a plant that's great for tea and cool drinks among other things.

The scent is a perfume that wafts from the shiso (Perilla frutescens) buds I am plucking from the bushy green and purple shiso plants I harvested early this morning (while the mosquitoes were still awake, but now I had my smoking coil with me). It was a perfect morning for herb harvesting: slightly warm but hazy.

I left a few well-positioned plants in place to go to seed for next year and harvested a couple of generous armfuls of whole plants, the leaves to use in making tea or cool drinks or to tempura just as they are, or to wrap onigiri or (purple leaves) to add color to umeboshi, or to use in making shiso furikake, in which select purple leaves (new, clean, tender) are dried then crumbled and mixed with quality salt for sprinkling on rice and other things throughout the winter; or to do what I was doing, pluck off the tiny buds for boiling briefly in shoyu, mirin, sake and a pinch of sugar to make shiso bud relish, which has to be tasted to be believed, as the plant packs all that dynamic energy of future flavor-savor, fragrance and nourishment into those little seedbuds, which if you time the harvest just right are still green and soft inside the calyxes like tiny jade beads on a green silk string, and the string itself is still tender.

If as you pluck it the stem is tender enough to eat, the whole thing comes off for pickling; if the stem is too tough, the buds just slide off like plantain seeds, leaving an empty stem. All it takes is quite a bit of your time; the plant knows how to give you exactly what you want, if you have the patience to receive it. And if you don't have the patience, you can't have any shiso bud relish this winter; you can't just drive down to the supermarket and get a jar of Acme Shiso Bud Relish, it's not manufacturable, machines just don't get that perceptive or meditative, apart from which they just don't care.

After I sit down, pick up a shiso stalk and begin to pluck the seed stems out from where they grow in the leaf axils, before too long I hear myself whistling an old shakuhachi favorite; even at the subconscious level, plucking shiso buds and later stripping off the seeds does not beget She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, or Great Balls of Fire, it brings up meditative, spiritually quiet music from the ancient seed place in the soul, the place you go to again when you finally taste the shiso relish atop your hot rice later in the winter, and all at once you yourself are summertime.

2 comments:

Benzyl Salicylate said...

Well it sounds quite herbal & aromatic!

R. Brady said...

Oh, it is, it is! Delicious, too!