Making Tofu in Japan with an 80-Year-Old Farmer’s Wife
Pre-Tofu soybeans, prior to becoming tofu -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/640 sec, f/2.5, ISO 2500 — map & image datanearby photos
Pre-Tofu
soybeans, prior to becoming tofu

I had a fantastic experience on Friday, part of which included making tofu from scratch with an 80-year-old lady in her old farmhouse in northern Shiga prefecture, about an hour from Kyoto.

Kimiko Sawai -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/500 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Kimiko Sawai

She's five-foot-nothing of pure grandmotherly warmth, but was a bit shy of the camera, so my photos of her don't really reflect her incessant beaming smile. I was there as a photographer on behalf of Tour du Lac Biwa, a tour company that arranges off-the-beaten-path experience tours in Shiga prefecture, for English-speaking visitors. It's the same tour company that I appeared on TV for, and that arranged this gargoyle-tile workshop visit.

Friday's tofu-making experience is part of this tour about taking life at a slower, countryside pace. Some of my photos will likely find their way to that page.

I was well paid for my photography work, leaving her house with a belly beyond full with her simple, close-to-nature farmer's-wife cooking made with the skill honed during 58 years of marriage and back-breaking by-hand mountain farming. The ultra-fresh hand-made tofu discussed in this post ended up being just one little dish of the entire meal, but that's the subject of a later post.

Blending the Soy Beans -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/640 sec, f/2.5, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
Blending the Soy Beans

I had no idea how tofu was made, but now I'm quite the expert, so let me list the ingredients:

  • soy beans
  • water
  • small sprinkle of concentrated sea water (or other coagulant)
  • hard work

The beans were apparently soaked in water overnight. As I arrived, she was pouring off the water into a big pot, then blending the beans as seen above.

Almost As Ancient as the Cook her blender, a Panasonic MJ-140K, likely dates from the 70s. -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 62mm — 1/125 sec, f/4.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Almost As Ancient as the Cook
her blender, a Panasonic MJ-140K, likely dates from the 70s.

The pureed beans and the water they had been soaking in are then simmered for about half an hour while being constantly stirred.

Kitchen Helper Hiromi-san, the president of the tour company, helps stir -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 35mm — 1/40 sec, f/10, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Kitchen Helper
Hiromi-san, the president of the tour company, helps stir
My Turn to Stir photo by Hiromi-san -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5000 — map & image datanearby photos
My Turn to Stir
photo by Hiromi-san

This is in the lady's private house that's been in her family for generations (though she married into it only 58 years ago). What you see is extremely typical of a modern old Japanese-farmhouse kitchen. Nothing's for show here.

Checking the Status with a well-practiced finger The lady in the foreground, Emi-san, is also an executive at the tour company -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Checking the Status
with a well-practiced finger
The lady in the foreground, Emi-san, is also an executive at the tour company
The Tide Can Not Be Held Back -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 44mm — 1/160 sec, f/4.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
The Tide Can Not Be Held Back

Despite that we were there to impose on her (she was doing us a favor by running through all this for the camera), her natural kindness as a host could not be curbed, so she insisted we stop helping and have tea. I just wish my photos would have captured the warmth of her presence... she looks a bit severe in the photo above, but was anything but.

Light Snack -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/640 sec, f/2.5, ISO 4000 — map & image datanearby photos
Light Snack
Temperature Adjustment slowly adding cool water to adjust the temperature slightly -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 29mm — 1/125 sec, f/2.8, ISO 3600 — map & image datanearby photos
Temperature Adjustment
slowly adding cool water to adjust the temperature slightly
Filtering Out the Solids -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 26mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2800 — map & image datanearby photos
Filtering Out the Solids

After it had simmered for about 35 minutes, it was time to filter out the solids. The hot liquid at this point was now soy milk.

Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2800 — map & image datanearby photos
Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2200 — map & image datanearby photos

Did I mention that it was hot. Hiromi-san was trying to not get burnt, but Kimiko-san (the old lady) just commented yup, it's hot, isn't it. She's done this before. 🙂

Usually she does it all by herself, but this time she had to accommodate helpers.

Every Bit Counts -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Every Bit Counts
Squeezing Out Remaining Soy Milk using the same spatula she's used for 58 years (she's using the spatula instead of her hands because the stuff is really hot ) -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 48mm — 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Squeezing Out Remaining Soy Milk
using the same spatula she's used for 58 years
(she's using the spatula instead of her hands because the stuff is really hot)
Sip of Fresh Soy Milk -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/160 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Sip of Fresh Soy Milk

I tried soy milk before, from a California supermarket. It was horrible, tasting like what I imagine water wrung from a tree-hugger's old socks would taste like.

On the other hand, this warm, fresh soy milk was excellent. This was perhaps my biggest surprise of the day.

Of course it's not at all related to milk, but soy milk sounds better than simmered-bean juice.

Precision High-Tech Instrumentation 66°C (150°F) -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/640 sec, f/2.5, ISO 3200 — map & image datanearby photos
Precision High-Tech Instrumentation
66°C (150°F)

The only time she used anything other than her finger and experience to judge the status was when she measured the temperature of the soy milk prior to adding the coagulant. It had cooled a bit more than she wanted (too many cooks in the kitchen slows things down, I guess), but deemed it safe to proceed.

A Splash of Concentrated Sea Water -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 36mm — 1/160 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
A Splash of Concentrated Sea Water
“ Natural Bittern ” I had to look up “ bittern ” . My dictionary says: “ a concentrated solution of various salts remaining after the crystallization of salt from seawater ” -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 27mm — 1/125 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2500 — map & image datanearby photos
Natural Bittern
I had to look up bittern. My dictionary says:
a concentrated solution of various salts remaining after the crystallization of salt from seawater

Adding this bit of salt causes the soy milk to coagulate, separating into tofu and water.

Coagulation Is Not Photogenic but it's part of the story -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/640 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Coagulation Is Not Photogenic
but it's part of the story

She then gently poured the tofu/water combo onto a filter cloth set in a colander...

Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 31mm — 1/125 sec, f/2.8, ISO 3200 — map & image datanearby photos
Gently Wrapping Wet Tofu -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 40mm — 1/160 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5000 — map & image datanearby photos
Gently Wrapping Wet Tofu
Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 38mm — 1/160 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5000 — map & image datanearby photos
Slowly Draining -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 56mm — 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Slowly Draining

The newborn tofu swaddled tenderly in filter cloth, she set a pan on top and filled it with water. This provides a gentle pressure to slowly, gently squeeze out more water. She let it sit like that for about 40 minutes while she worked on other parts of the meal.

Peeking at the Result -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 32mm — 1/125 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1250 — map & image datanearby photos
Peeking at the Result
Fresh Tofu -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 50mm — 1/200 sec, f/5, ISO 3200 — map & image datanearby photos
Fresh Tofu
Ready to Eat just add garnish -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Ready to Eat
just add garnish

Unlike soy milk, which I'd tried the one time long ago then never again until today, I've had tofu many many times. Generally it has no taste, and is just a healthful delivery vehicle for garnishes or other tastes.

This fresh tofu was different... it had a sublime soft deliciousness that's hard to describe, but it definitely stood on its own as a tasty part of a meal. I didn't want to spoil it with a garnish, but then Kimiko-san pulled out some home-made miso garnish... but that's a story for another time.

By the way, after straining out the bits of bean pulp from the soy milk after simmering, those bits of bean become a sawdusty-looking substance called okara...

“ Soy Pulp ” おから -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/640 sec, f/2.5, ISO 3600 — map & image datanearby photos
Soy Pulp
おから

It has a very short shelf life so commercial producers of tofu usually throw it away, but it's highly nutritious, and not something a farmer is going to waste. (It's also the answer to my soft not-foam-filling “What am I?” quiz from the other day.)

We ended up making a dessert with it.

(Note: if you visit Japan and want to take this tour with the specific intention of making tofu, be sure to mention that because lacking a specific request, what the lady prepares on any given day depends on the season, what she has on hand, and perhaps her whim. So be sure to mention specific requests. Some people specifically avoid tofu, for example, due to allergy or simple dislike of the stuff.)

Continued here...


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