In Japanese, 梅:うめ or ume, meaning plum. It’s actually an apricot, but always referred to as a plum. They’re light green when unripe and redden as they ripen. They’re inedible, ripe or unripe. Apparently they’re sour and bitter and a little poisonous.
Ume are in season right now. They’ll be in season until mid-July. The grocery stores are stocked with bags and bags of these little plums. And stores are also well-stocked with bags of special rock sugar and cartons of white liquor, which you need to make your own umeshu, or plum wine.
Today I watched an old woman fill her cart with lots of liquor and sugar and plums and I imagined her making plum wine. She’s been making her own plum wine for years and years. She probably learned from her mother. When she was younger I bet she thought the preparation process was tedious. But now she finds it soothing: she likes removing all the stem ends from the plums with a bamboo skewer, finds satisfaction in discarding the plums with any brown or blemished spots, enjoys layering the glass jars with plums, rock sugar, plums, rock sugar, liquor. She probably stores these two jars in a compartment under the floorboards, where she keeps all of her other jars of umeshu. Maybe some jars are 3 or 4 years old now, maybe as old as 10. When she opens the compartment to place the fresh jars inside, she takes out one of the older jars, removes the cap, ladles the alcohol into a glass, takes a sip. She calls her husband, who’s out in the garden. He comes in and take a sip from the glass and utters a grunt of approval. She smiles, then screws the cap back on and places the jar back in the compartment, where it’ll continue to wait patiently for a little while longer.
Here’s an article about how to make your own umeshu for anyone who’s curious.