I heard about the workshop through the Peko Peko mailing list. I had never tasted Umeshu before but everything I had ever tasted or seen of Peko Peko was beautiful, and delicious. A class hosted by them was bound to be worthwhile. Plus they promised snacks.
I arrived at Peko Peko headquarters--a nondescript building in Oakland--to find Yoko, one of the owners of Umami Mart, waiting outside to greet the workshop attendees. At the top of the dark stairway was a large, virtually empty room with a stage in one corner, old church pews pushed against the walls, and a few booths where the other students of the day mingled politely. I circulated the room like a tourist, taking pleasure in the details: a hand drawn sign on a neighbor's door, the intersection of a painted floor and tile, a room full of strangers: a mix of farmers, avid Umeshu drinkers looking for a more economical way to slake their thirst, Japanese natives living in California who grew up with Umeshu but had never made it themselves, and curious home cooks.
Finally, jars filled, we tasted a batch of Junko's Umeshu from last year while we ate homemade tofu, yellowtail sashimi and salmon croquets.
The Umeshu was delicious. It was sweet and plummy at first (like the best fruit roll up, one woman said to me), and as I swallowed it turned tart on the tongue and left the mouth feeling refreshed and clean. I felt rejuvenated. On the drive home, my Umeshu jar buckled into the passenger seat, I couldn't stop thinking about the trajectory of the day and how much power we have, as individuals, to change our own stories. Sitting in my booth, cleaning the fragrant fruit and chatting with a fellow student, my agitated morning was a distant memory. I was calm. My mind was engaged. I felt at once shy and emboldened by being in a new place, out of my element but not overly so. It reminded me of traveling.