Sunday 7 October 2012

The Perfect Shiitake Mushroom

Hi folks,
It's a three day holiday here. Monday is 'Physical Education Day' a holiday instituted in memory of the Tokyo Olympics. But Saturday turned out to be a working day for me. A sudden glut of shiitake mushrooms means  it's all hands on deck at Tohoku Kogyo's shiitake packing factory. 

The best mushrooms are picked out of containers and arranged on plastic trays: 8 small ones, 6 medium, 4 large, or 3 extra large to each tray. And then again by quality, A, B or AA. That's 12 combinations. Highly skilled work. We amateurs were given the task of dealing with the second rate mushrooms: cutting off the stems (ashi, literally 'legs' in Japanese), arranging in packs, and weighing to 210 grams exactly. The trick here is to arrange them low in the tray so they don't jam the packaging machine. Skinny mushrooms with long 'legs' have to have the stems intertwined out of the way and fat, light ones, which bear an uncanny resemblance to 'dorayaki' sponge cakes, need to be fit together like a jigsaw to get the weight and remain low in the pack.
(Correction: the correct word for a mushroom stem is ishizuki  石突き, ashi is packers' jargon)

Anyway, for your information, here's a guide to the perfect shiitake mushroom.

The perfect mushroom. The cap still attached to the stem.
'AA' quality. Firm and meaty to  the  taste.

'A' quality would be slightly open. 'B' half open.
These were the second class ones we were packing in bags. See how the mushrooms
open out as time goes by.  The one on the right only just usable. 

After a bad year last year production is back to normal. These should fetch a good price as it's still hot in many areas of Japan and shiitake won't grow in the heat. But Fukushima farmers have been getting bad prices, sometimes knocked down by Tokyo dealers who argue that Tepco will make up the difference anyway. (Tepco have promised compensation for the difference in price last year and this year but have not said how long this will go on.)

Finally, a curious linguistic point. In the factory, the boxes for the extra large mushrooms are marked WL. By a strange twist of logic, the English 'Double L' is rendered as WL. So what in standard English would be marked LL or XL has developed a new life of its own. Interesting ...

I intended to write this last night but after a bath to soothe the aches and pains I fell asleep in front of the TV. It's a long time since I've done a days physical work and it shows!

1 comment:

  1. I love your blog and for some reason this is the first time I have been able to leave a comment.
    Just a fantastic post!!!!

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