Monday, July 5, 2010

Myouga Harvest 茗荷の収穫

This may look like small bamboo but these are myouga (myoga) plants. Some years ago, Chef Kudo of Tako Grill gave a cutting (root) to us after he served us his home-grown myouga and learned that we both love myouga. We planted it in several spots in our backyard but it chose to grow in this one under the Japanese plum tree. It is good that this is confined to the raised bed, this plant keeps sending underground shoots and could overtake the entire yard under the right conditions.

This is a very strange plant (and I guess it could be said that those who grow, harvest and eat it may be also be considered somewhat eccentric--including us). In any case, the portion of the plant which we eat grows underground. Around this time of the year, the plants send out subterranean buds. These will produce a delicate white flower that eventually makes its appearance above ground. The flower looks like a white butterfly floating just above the soil in the dark shade under the foliage. While this flower is beautiful and indicates that the bud is just below the surface once it has made its appearance it is too late--the bud which is the part that we eat is "past its prime". Once the buds flower they become mushy and lose their flavor.

Because the edible buds of the plant are literally buried, they are extremely difficult to find. You have to literally dig down into the soil, scrabbling with your fingers to search for the hidden delicacy which frequently can only be found by feel.  If you use a tool, it is highly likely you will damage the buds. Add to this difficulty the fact that the myouga grows in the part of our back yard heavily under the domain of "dark friends" (mosquitoes). These small Asian mosquitoes are quite vicious to anyone entering the part of the yard they claim as their own. But never fear when it comes to purloining a Japanese delicacy for her husband, my intrepid wife fearlessly sallies forth. She dons a black "Ninja suit" consisting of a long sleeved hoodie (with hood pulled up and tied) balloon pants with cuffs tucked into black socks as protection against the mosquitoes--black because mosquitoes seem less attracted to dark colors. With head deeply buried in the foliage she scrabbles bare-handed in the hard dirt in search of the tasty little buds sometimes buried inches under the soil. (Harvesting myouga wrecks havoc on a manicure). As I said those who grow, harvest and eat myouga may be considered somewhat eccentric--including us

After some searching, my wife found one. (the picture shows the bud after it has been partially dug out). The buds are still very small and it will probably take another week for them to grow to a good size. But if you let it go too long, everything will bloom when you least expect it and its "game over" until next year. Oh, well, my wife will just have to go back out again.

Here are what we harvested today but maybe, next week we may have a better luck. Dishes using myouga will definitely be forthcoming.

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