Featured Recipes

It took two divine beings, Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Moto, who descended on the inky liquid of the earth, stirring vigorously with their jeweled spear until drops congealed and grew out as a series of little islands. The first of these islands, the first piece of land in existence on earth is known today as Awaji Island, and the drops that followed formed the remainder of the Japanese Archipelago. 

From the mainland, a steep mountain range runs near the coast overlooking Awaji Island called Mount Rokko. An offspring of the land-creating beings, Kuraokami, is a dragon who presides over the falling precipitation, such as the rains over Mount Rokko that fosters the life on the mountain range but also gathers under ground in aquifers. Two of these break into streams and combine to form what has become known as Miyamizu and the most prized water in all of Japanese sake-making.

Throughout most of Japan the streams run fast over volcanic soils contributing to mostly soft waters. The distinction between soft and hard water is based upon the amount of minerals the water picks up along its journey on land, which comes down to the present mineral’s ability to dissolve as well as the duration of contact. Rain is soft.

The Rokko Mountains contain mostly a biotite granite that consists of quartz, feldspar, and biotite mica, and significantly for a small 700 meter area that runs through the villages of Nishinomiya and Imazu, the water gathers hardness like nowhere else in Japan accumulating in calcium and magnesium.

For a long time most of the attention in sake making had been placed on the rice, which intuitively fits. But that all changed when Yamamura Tozaemon, sixth head of the Yamamura family sake breweries noticed that of his two kura one made significantly better sake (to his tastes) than the other. Despite trying to carry over rice and even personnel from the better kura, it wasn’t until he transported water on the backs of oxen from one to the other was he able to make sake as good at Uozaki as that at Nishinomiya. And then not only was water’s role in sake-making fully recognized- for the accumulated minerals in some harder waters aided a more vigorous and full fermentation, but the unique environmental and situational happenstance of making sake with the Miyamizu made it famous.

After the success of Nishinomiya, a person named Senzaburo Miura sought to make his own sake but his batches continuously met their demise despite using the best practices for the time. In Hokkaido, Senzaburo had nothing but soft water around him. The soft water encouraged a sluggish fermentation and eventually led to a rotten final product. But don’t tell a dreamer they can’t do something because after years of stubborn experimentation Senzaburo honed in on a method that produced a successful final sake using soft water that brought out more refreshing tastes and aromas that the sharpness of the hard water couldn’t achieve. To do this Senzaburo used less koji and ripened the inoculated rice until it was well-matured so the fungus penetrated more deeply.

In days like ours today where we can “correct” the composition of any water to suit out brewing needs, it seems worth reflecting on the power of working with what's really truely there as Yamamura and Senzaburo did. The human collaboration with nature that brought about sake led to the “discovering” of a special peculiarity running down a local mountain side and to a special reverence for that place. And rather than bending nature to meet his goals, Senzaburo let himself be bent by nature until him and nature were in agreement.

And in a season as perpetually rainy and temperamental as the Spring we're having now, such flexibility seems like it could come in handy.

Happy Fermenting!


It seems worthwhile to take a quick moment to congratulate Bitter Ends who did what they wanted to do and has closed their doors for their last service today. This picture above is a collab we did together, it's a very close up picture of their sourdough bread. Over the years Bitter Ends has been an essential friend to Ferment Pittsburgh and has supported us in a million ways.

Bitter Ends entered the confused universe of restaurants, a place where the potential for expression is severely stunted by the reality of a business that not only survives on teensy margins, but is also often corralled by the strong opinions of those who ultimately have some influence on those tiny margins- and somehow railed against all of that and stubbornly held true to a very different vision. It has been a place from the get-go that knitted together many important and some forgotten regional purveyors of good food who work harder than they ever need to because they do something they believe in and provided them with a place where their "life's work" could feel respected. For me, it was one of the only places I could offer "ingredients" to that would stop everything they were doing to swoon over the true magnitude of the beauty of the nourishing wonder before us, take it in deeply, and then holding the morels in her hands like a baby bird make a promise that they will get the full treatment that they deserved. It has been this cultivated love that has always shone through all the flavors pouring out of that little place and refreshingly pierced through all the silly notions of what a restaurant should be. For the longest time I had a sweet potato pie recipe Table Magazine featured of theirs hung on my wall, the intro written by Becca reads: "It's important to fall in love with your sweet potatoes that you will be using for this pie. If you do not love sweet potatoes, this pie is not for you."

Thanks for making your strange way of existing a tangibly edible reality for us. Becca if you read this, I’m excited to share a meal with you sometime soon I hope, one that’s not for sale.

One note on the featured recipes this month: With the fish fry phenomena fully swept through Pittsburgh and out the other side for another year, it turns out the above "recipes" provides you with all the parts of a wonderful fish sammich itself. Take two slices of rustic sourdough bread, a slather of homemade cream cheese, smoked smelt, sauerkraut (like the nettle kraut), and a dusting of dill and sesame. Best served warm on the cold spring days.
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