Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Chun qiu cha shi

After we ran out of our supply of maeshilcha ('매실차') in early March, I managed to minimise my withdrawal symptoms by buying bottles of I Can't Believe It's Not Maeshil from the supermarket. OK, this isn't the actually brand name, but compared to the thick home-made version which Korean Mother cooks up annually, it's a poor imitation. To be fair it's more of a juice than a concentrated tea, but it doesn't give you quite the same kick.

Now it's a bit early in the season for Korean Mother to cook up her annual batch of
all-purpose ingredient and side-dish mixture of which maeshiljeub ('매실즙') (and in turn maeshilcha) is a by-product, but because we're planning to head back to England for a few months in October. she's taken it upon herself to do it particularly early this year. Even so, with a fermentation time of three months I doubt we'll be drinking too much of it before we leave.

Our task this morning was to buy the sugar which is poured into a large container with the helpless meashil (or Japanese apricots) are first emptied into. This helps the fermentation process. But clearly, there's been a small cultural misunderstanding, because where I come from 'some sugar' does not mean ten kilograms of the stuff, and when someone tells me that maeshilcha contains 'some sugar', I don't expect that to mean 50%. I must have spent half the winter on a sugar high - no wonder I've not been getting the same 'refreshing feeling' from the supermarket juice. I think I've gone off the whole idea now.

Because it's so early in the season, Korean Mother had gone to a farm to buy the fruit especially early, so there was no backing out. Armed with the sugar we arrived at her apartment to witness the
maeshiljeub making tradition. Out came a large container, and in went the fruits and sugar in equal proportion, a couple of inches worth of each at a time. And disappointingly, that was it. So now we wait. Three months during which it will slowly transform itself from a bright green/sandy coloured mixture into a dark brown sludge. I may take occasional picture updates of its progress but I think I'll forego the chance of becoming an Internet sensation by hooking up a webcam to monitor it.

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