Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Korean Green Plum Liquor, Maesil Ju (매실주)

A tart and fruity summer aperitif
Maesil Ju

Tart, easy to make, and delicious, maesil ju, Korean green plum liquor is the perfect summer aperitif. Korean green plums, maesil, also known as Japanese apricots, or ume (梅) are tangy fruits with origins in China. Today, there are well over 150 distinct varieties of these green apricots, commonly referred to as plums. Umes are often pickled or dried and salted by both Japanese and Chinese and eaten as snacks or side dishes. But to me, the liquor is the most delicious form of these flavorful green plums.

Maesil Ju on the rocks

Although the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans all have liquors or wines made from these tart green plums, Japanese umeshu and Chinese mei jiu differ in that the ume is steeped in a clear alcohol. The traditional Korean version of this liquor uses equal parts brown sugar and plums and is fermented for a minimum of two months. In my Maesil Ju recipe, I modified my cousin’s recipe, which uses equal parts of brown sugar and green plums. In my recipe, I add raw white aloe bee honey to speed the fermentation process and obviate the risk of bad bacteria blooms. I am a huge fan of raw honey because of its anti-bacterial properties, and you can expect to find me adding it to anything fermented. I am also experimenting with making maesil ju out of crunchy Middle Eastern green plums, but thus far, I am discovering that the fermentation rate is much slower than Korean plums, which I think has something to do with the permeability of the peels. The skin of the Middle Eastern plum is not as furry or porous as the Korean plum. Regardless of which plum you pick, be sure to serve this delicious drink chilled or on the rocks, sipping it for full flavor. Sssssp!

Korean Green Plum Liquor (Maesil Ju) Recipe

~ Produces 3/4 liter of liquor

Preparing the Plums
I use a one-liter glass canning jar with a rubber gasket, but a regular glass jar also works. Make sure your plums are fresh and not shriveled or marred. I recommend sticking to the Japanese apricot version and not the Middle Eastern one because I don't know what the latter will taste like just yet. Also, be sure to get real brown sugar and not the white sugar with coloring or molasses added. The bulk food section of your local health food store is a great place to buy cheap brown sugar.

2½ cups brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup raw white aloe bee honey
3½ cups Korean green plums (maesil) or ume
1. Soak the plums for two or three hours.
2. Gently wipe the plums dry and take calyces off with toothpick.
Making Maesil Ju
If you use a Fido jar, you should periodically release the accumulating gas every week or so.
1. Put a cup of plums and follow with equal parts brown sugar.
2. Pack down the brown sugar and plums and then, repeat steps, topping the jar off with honey.
3. Store the jar in a cool dark place.
4. Check on the jar every week, you will noticed the plums beginning to shrivel. By the end of two weeks, they should be fully immersed in clear brandy-colored liquid.
5. At the end of two months, serve chilled or on the rocks.

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