Traveling in the land of the rising sun

By Shannon McCabe

 

Baker Creek visits Japan, the Land of Sophisticated Veggies

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The hussle and bussle and plenty of fresh produce at a Japanese market.

A recent trip to Japan yielded an impressive haul of the most superbly sophisticated class of heirlooms. The Japanese are famously fastidious in their farming practices, which include an effort to breed the most productive and healthy vegetables.

 

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The Japanese Cucumber trials at Baker Creek this summer yielded amazing results!

 

Japanese cucumbers have led the market in quality for quite some time, we are delighted to introduce even more styles of the highly revered Japanese cucumbers. You will immediately be able to tell the flavor difference in these varieties; they are famous for being less bitter and more succulent than other cucumbers.  We recommend slicing samples for market customers to taste; once you have tried the superior Japanese cucumbers, it is impossible to go back!

 

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Aonaga Jibai  is an exceptionally sweet, tender cucumber with vigorous, tough vines!

 

With exceptionally sweet, tender, and above all vigorous, tough vines, Aonaga Jabai is known in the southern islands of Japan. The seeds have been preserved over generations by an oild family in Beppu City in Kyushu Island. The long, slender 8-inch fruits are bitter free and super sweet with inconspicuous seeds, making it a perfect marketing cucumber with flavor that stands out from the rest! From the 1939 seed catalog of Tanaka & Co.: “Hardiness and prolific bearing character are meritorious features of Japaese varieties of cucumber. They withstand drought, moisture and attack of fungoid disease to a remarkable dengree.”

 

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The Natsu Fushinari  cucumber boasts the exquisite flavor of an heirloom with the tough disease resistance synonymous with commercial types. This variety has been used in powdery mildew studies and has shown exceptional resistance, especially in high heat. In Japanese, fushi means node and nari means setting fruit; aptly named Natsu Fushinari is a high yielder due to setting ability at every node. This Japanese variety can be grown on the ground or on poles and is an early maturing cucumber at 70 days. It has a deep green color, glossy skin, good uniformity, and fruits 8” long.

 

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Tokiwa, an old Japanese variety, also known as “Tokyo Green”, came from China in the Meiji era, then became the dominant variety sold around Tokyo. It is a supremely sweet and bitter-free 9” cuke with tender skin and few seeds. Mentioned in the 1932 edition of the Oriental Seed Company: “The vines attain twice the length of common varieties.” They do well on fences and trellises, saving space in the gardens. Vines are almost mildew proof and well adapted to hot dry summers. Small fruits make excellent pickles and set the standard for slicing cucumbers; they are buttery soft and sweet, never bitter.


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Japan has a long history of breeding fine vegetables; a country-wide trend toward vegetarianism lasted for 1200 years from the Nara to the Meiji period. During this time much effort was expended creating the most nutritious and scrumptious vegetables to serve as the pillar of the Japanese diet. Varieties like Tokinashi turnip have persisted from this period, and production has continued to this day. Tokinashi is a traditional vegetable of Japan and listed among the illustrious group of Dento Yasai, or traditional cultural vegetables of Japan. This is a 50 day white turnip with silky, fine-grained texture. Father of forest gardening, Masanobu Fukuoka, grew this variety as a wild understory crop. With a reluctance to bolt or become pithy, this popular type has an incredible sweet taste and rich flavor. The roots are nice and smooth with crisp, white flesh of excellent quality. It can be planted in early spring or late summer, into fall, and enjoyed all year long! The crunchy, juicy roots are enjoyed fresh or pickled.

 

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The Hida Beni red turnip is  supremely crisp and mild with a white and red, fine-grained flesh making it a top fresh-eating salad turnip. These beautiful, large, red-skinned turnips are cultivated mainly in Takayama City, Japan. Its origin was from a former part of Takayama called Hachigago, where a local turnip of reddish-purple hue was widely grown. In 1918, this red colored mutant was discovered from these Hachiga turnips and named Hida Beni-Red Turnip. It is excellent for making pickles and matures in just 45-50 days.


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The Nagasaki Akari Kabu turnip is stunningly beautiful and will be sure to draw attention at market or on the plate. This delicious turnip is traditionally grown in lovely Nagasaki, Japan. A dark plum-to-wine color skin with a hint of delicate purple in the sweet, crisp flesh makes it so enticing. Great for pickling and a delicious raw turnip for fresh eating and salads. An excellent choice for succession planting, this variety is ready 50 days from sowing.

 

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Cultivated for centuries in the mountainous region of Kyoto, Japan, mizuna is celebrated as one of the region’s designated traditional gourmet and historic vegetable varieties. Mizuna is believed to have originally come to Japan from mainland Asia many centuries ago. Thanks to many generations of careful cultivation, and its status as a cornerstone of Japan’s culinary history, modern mizuna is considered a Japanese creation. We have acquired both summer and cool season varieties of Mizuna, each specifically adapted to the season for better harvests year round!

 

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An excellent choice for cool seasons, Benihoushi Mizuna is a new, vibrant twist on an ancient crop, and the bright purple stems set it apart from any other mizuna. The succulent stems are rich in anthocyanin, the same powerful purple antioxidant present in blueberries. This recently developed open-pollinated variety has been making a splash on the high-end culinary scene in Japan. The greens are excellent raw in salads; the purple stems and dark greens make a lovely contrast, and the delicate flavor is unparalleled. Mizuna is well adapted to both heat and cold extremes and is suitable for several harvests, in fact becoming more tasty and cool-adapted with each successive cutting.

 

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A taste of Kyoto’s culinary heritage, this heat tolerant Mizuna variety was originally bred to withstand the heat and intense humidity of Japan’s interior. Summer Mizuna is incredibly bolt resistant, even in the face of punishing heat and moisture. Mizuna is suitable for several harvests and can be eaten at all stages. This variety is traditionally planted for high summer harvest, when the juicy, watery stems make the most refreshing mid-day snack.