Berkeley local Ayako Iino just won two 2018 Good Food Awards in February. Her small-batch Japanese preserves company, Yumé Boshi, was recognized in two categories: preserves, for her Ume Plum Jam and elixirs, for her Ume Plum Syrup. The Good Food Awards recognize “exceptional food and drink crafters who are pushing the envelope in both craftsmanship and sustainability.” Packaged in glass jars and bottles with distinctive white labels with black calligraphy, Iino’s traditional Japanese pantry items are as striking as they are delicious. They can be found on the Yumé Boshi website and at shops in the East Bay.
Iino grew up in Nagoya, Japan, learning from her mother how to make pickles and preserves. Later, living in a rural corner of Chiba province in a 100-year old farm house, she was taught by local grandmothers to use ume plums, a small fruit closely related to the apricot, to make umeboshi (a salted pickle) and other traditional Japanese condiments. Iino made her way to Northern California to study macrobiotic cooking and then hotel and restaurant management at City College of San Francisco. She worked as a pastry intern with Mary Canales at Chez Panisse and cooked at Oliveto in Oakland and Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco.
An introduction to a farmer in the Central Valley growing ume inspired Iino to return to making traditional Japanese condiments and start her company, Yumé Boshi. She began by offering umeboshi, made with ume, sea salt and red shiso leaves (a Japanese herb from the mint family). In a labor-intensive process, she cures the plums in a brine, dries them in the sun for several days and combines them with shiso. The leaves react with the brine to give the ume a deep pink color. The shiso gives the pickle a hint of anise and cinnamon taste. Iino uses the byproducts from the umeboshi to make vinegar and yukari (a salty, tangy, fragrant seasoning made from dried shiso flakes). She sources yellow peaches for her jam — June Pride, Rich Lady and Flavorcrest — from Woodleaf Farm in Oroville.
Iino lives with her family in a bright, airy home in South Berkeley and crafts her products at Forage Kitchen in Oakland. We asked Iino to tell us about some of her favorite things and share a couple drink recipes using Yumé Boshi Ume Plum Syrup.
What’s a typical dinner meal for your family?
I like to make tonkatsu (fried, breaded pork cutlet), with shredded cabbage, rice and miso soup. For a special dessert, I’ll serve vanilla pudding or vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries drizzled with my red shiso syrup. My 8-year-old son likes miso soup, simple pasta or hanbaagu, a Japanese hamburger. It’s a very popular item in Japanese homes and restaurants. Unlike the hamburger here in America, typically it includes ground meat like beef and pork and has breadcrumbs, sautéed onion, egg, milk or cream mixed in. I shape it into a thick oval, cook it in a frying pan and serve it on a plate with a ketchup-based hanbaagu sauce and service it with vegetable sides and a bowl of steamed rice. (Iino typically shops at Monterey Market, Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Fish Market and The Local Butcher Shop.)
Do you make your own miso?
If I can. Homemade miso is the best. It takes time to mature, but the ingredients and process are simple. If I buy miso, I look for brands with only a few ingredients: soybeans, salt and a cultured grain like rice or barley. I avoid miso with anything more than that. Aedan and South River both make wonderful miso. I cherish the Hatcho miso (made only from soybeans) that I bring back from Japan because I can’t find it over here. I grew up eating it every morning. It’s chocolate-colored, thicker than most miso and made only of soybeans and salt. (Aedan Miso is available at Tokyo Fish Market and Rockridge Market Hall. South River can be found at Three Stone Hearth.)
What is the difference between Ume Shizuki Vinegar and Umesu?
Ume shizuku is much thicker than umesu, like the consistency of old balsamico. It’s a finishing sauce rather than a cooking seasoning. We get umesu from the process of salt pickling the plums, the first stage of umeboshi making. We get ume shizuku when we jar umeboshi after the plums have been aged. Shizuku means ‘drop.’ We get a very small amount of it; the plum literally squeezes out part of its essence into that liquid. It’s so beautiful and flavorful, just a few drops stand out in a dish.
Good sea salt like Maldon, Camargue Fleur de Sel or Yukishio from Japan. And Yumé Boshi Ume Shizuki Vinegar and Yukari. (Salts are available at Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market, Sur La Table, and Rockridge Market Hall.)
In the kitchen, what tools can’t you live without?
I need sharp knives, heavy-bottomed pots, and my 13-inch long cooking chopsticks that I get at Tokyo Fish Market.
Katei Ryori no Sugata by Yoshiko Tatsumi, The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi and Lulu’s Provencal Table by Richard Olney.
Do you have any favorite drink combinations with your syrups?
My husband makes an ume syrup cocktail with tequila. At the Good Food Awards after-party, they served a Yumé Boshi Ume Plum Syrup cocktail mixed with Treos brandy and lemon juice. It was super yummy! (Syrups are available at Northbrae Bottle Shop.)
Yumé Boshi Recipes
Ume Plum Refresher
1 cup ume plum syrup
4-5 cups bubbly or still water
Simple Ume Plum Tequila Cocktail
1/3 cup ume plum syrup
1 cup tequila
A squeeze of lemon or lemon juice