Sakura-no-Shiozuke / 桜の塩漬け
After my semi-successful experiment with homemade sakura daifuku and my delicious experience with Setsuko Pastry's sakura mochi, I decided to try preserving cherry blossoms in salt and vinegar. Having some sakura-no-shiozuke on hand allows you to enjoy a little hit of spring throughout the year, decorating your sweets or cakes with the pickled blossoms, or steeping a little bouquet in hot water for a restorative cup of cherry blossom tea (sakura-yu).
For my first batch I collected large, pale, aromatic blossoms from some early blooming trees in the neighborhood. After washing the blossoms and letting them air dry (above), I laid them in salt and pressed them under weights for three hours. Cherry blossoms have at least one thing in common with spinach: you start off thinking you have a bumper crop, then one step later you're shaking your head and wondering
where it all went. I put my meager harvest in a jar full of white vinegar and brine (below) and stashed it in a dark cupboard.
A week later, the vinegar had leached all the color from the blossoms, leaving them transparent and wholly unappealing (the vinegar, on the other hand, was beautifully pink and perfumed). I ditched that batch and started over with heavier, darker blossoms from a late-blooming ornamental cherry. Right from the start the second batch went better. When I lifted them out of the pickling brine after their week-long bath they were still pink, mostly intact, and seemed to be a perfect texture. I pressed them in paper towels and put them to bed in a tupperware container under a generous blanket of kosher salt (below).
A couple of weeks later, I got the container down from the pantry to take a look and was horrified to find that my beautiful blossoms had turned blackish-green and putrid (below)!
So, no sakura-yu for me this winter.
At least I have an entire year to figure out what went wrong before I make my third attempt...