Monday, June 22, 2009

Mud Love

The importance of rice to the Japanese diet cannot be over stated. Rice has had a long, rich history in Japan, and even as times and trends change, rice will continue to play a part in Japanese culture and cuisine. It’s really the backbone of everyday life.

Since its introduction to Japan more than 2000 years ago, it has become the staple grain of this island nation. It grows well in Japan’s climate, and the annual rituals of sowing, transplanting, weeding and harvesting follow the seasons. Many homes in rural Japan have their own rice paddy.

When I stayed with Chef, Deco Nakajima and husband Everett Brown – at Brownsfield, an organic rice farm and health retreat – I helped bring in the rice harvest over the course of the fall, and over several paddies. Brownsfield grows enough rice to feed their family of 5 plus 5 interns for the whole year. That’s a bit more than 1000 pounds!

But, before you can harvest the rice there are structures to be built. Fence units made of bamboo need to be erected. Long 30 foot poles are harvested from the forest, the ends hollowed out so that one can handily fit into another. Support poles are fashioned, 2 together to create upside down v shape. The resulting fence will hold the bundles of rice, hanging to dry.

In fact, on my arrival at Brownsfield I was immediately sent into the forest with a hand scythe to go fetch some bamboo. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but didn’t want to seem like a wimp, either. Off I went, and figured it out pretty quick. You want to work fast and efficiently in those woods since they are infested with mosquitoes!

Some folks wear rubber boots to venture into the paddy, but Everett subscribes to the barefoot method. Prepare to get very muddy! At first it’s a little creepy but after a while the cool mud is quite refreshing. Usually you work in pairs, with one person cutting off the sheathes of rice and another taking 2 bundles and tying them together with lengths of dried grasses. Big buzz of pride, once mastered!

Harvesting is a time for celebration, and usually a festive meal ensues, often pot luck. Once everybody gets hosed off! And while Deco and her crew are famous for their fabulous macrobiotic dishes, no meal is complete without a simple bowl of nutty organic brown rice, and a bowl of soothing Miso Soup. Intern Yuma, who was my farm boss and subsequently became my protégé in the kitchen (in breadmaking!) taught me this simple version that you can whip up on the spot in time for breakfast.

Miso Soup – Feeds 10
2.5 L water
1 yellow onion peeled and cut in 8 wedges
1 large carrot, scrubbed, cut in large dice
1 piece seaweed (kombu is good)
2 or 3 dried shitake mushrooms
2 – 3 large T of miso (can use white, yellow or red)
Optional garnishes: sliced green onions, enoki mushrooms, slivered red raddish.

In a large pot put all ingredients (except miso) on and bring to a boil. Turn heat to med and let simmer about 20 minutes. Scoop out mushrooms, remove and discard stems, cut cap in slivers and return to pot. Use a bit of the stock to moisten your miso, and return to pot. Let it warm through and garnish as you wish.


  1. There is some fine writing and photography here. Thanks for posting.

  2. Cool, thanks. Love to know who you are!