Friday, August 11, 2017

Waste management: Packing lunch with bamboo shoot skins

Satoyama forest in Kanagawa Prefecture is really rich. Especially from early spring to late autumn, to do list of forest management includes harvesting the bounty from the forest. Take bamboo forest. Unless we thin bamboo shoots in spring, the forest becomes too dark and could be in danger of landslides for mountainous Yokohama and Kanagawa. We collect bamboo shoots vigorously from April to June and carry them home. A-hem! It’s not that we are gluttons. We have to collect them! Although this year we could not have a bumper crop of bamboo shoots as last year, I now have a decent stock of frozen bamboo shoots, both of Phyllostachys edulis and Phyllostachys bambusoides. At home, I boiled them in a pot with a plenty of water, with 1 tbsp baking soda for Phyllostachys edulis; Phyllostachys bambusoides does not need the soda. When they became tender enough to be poked with a skewer, I rinsed them under running water; this process is important especially for Phyllostachys edulis as they were boiled with soda that could leave bitter taste. Next, I sliced them and stored in Ziploc for freezing. One of my seniors at Lovers of Niiharu told me dusting sliced bamboos with sugar at freezing could keep the taste better. So I made a separated butch of bamboo shoots with sugar this year. They would be a part of 2018 New Year’s menu. 😋

A forest of Phyllostachys bambusoides in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Though Kanagawa Forest Instructors thin the place annually,
it becomes like this every June with new shoots.
Phyllostachys edulis, taking out the shoots of Phyllostachys bambusoides is just like thinning ordinary trees …
actually, we knocked them down by hand.
They were so soft.
The tips of young Phyllostachys bambusoides shoots are edible.
They were boiled in water and sliced for freezing.
Like this. 👻

This year I unpeeled the skins of bamboo shoots several times. I tell you, before reaching creamy-colored bamboo shoots, we have to take off bamboo hulls of probably larger volume than the edible part. I thought it’s a waste throwing them out. Before plastic wraps or Ziploc, bamboo skins were ideal food containers for lunch and other occasions. There are lots of Japanese senior citizens who tell their childhood memories of snacks wrapped in bamboo husks. If you visit Amazon or Tokyu Hands, they sell 10 dried bamboo skins for about $7 to wrap lunch. Well, I had tons of skins of bamboo shoots in front of me … I decided to experiment with the skins of Phyllostachys edulis shoots which is wider than those of Phyllostachys bambusoides and hence possible to act like a wrapping paper. The result was, “80% success.”

The image to wrap rice balls with a bamboo husk.
The way to use store-bought bamboo husks is explained here.
They are the bamboo shoot skins I tried.

I realized the outside of the hulls of Phyllostachys edulis shoots is covered with fine soft hairs, although those available from Amazon are glossy inside-out. But the hairs can be removed just by scrubbing them under running water. I cleaned them inside out with brush, and dried them for about a month. They shrunk their volume and became hard.

Before scrubbing.
They were this much hairy.
I am partial for this organic scrub brush made of palm.
After scrubbing, the skin becomes more or less smooth.
Drying the washed bamboo skins.
I expected the sanitization effect of sunshine.
The end product

Quick googling told me before using dried bamboo husks, we have to steep them in water for at least 3 hours. Although my bamboo hulls are hard when it’s dry, they can return soft within 30 minutes. They are in the end baby garment for bamboos, and so basically very supple. That’s convenient for quick soaking in morning, but it means they are softer than the commercialized product imported from China. It makes my bamboo wrappers a bit tricky to be folded. Normally, before wrapping anything with a bamboo skin, we cut an edge of the husk to harvest a string in order to tie the package. My bamboo twines are too weak to bind a packet … So, I’m using rubber bands instead. My volunteer seniors told me it would be worth while trying again with the fallen skins that can be harvested in late summer. Those are the bamboo husks of 20m high young bamboos. It could be stronger, they said. Hmmm. Let me try.

The beginning of soaking
It regains its original form
after 20 or so minutes.
Before wrapping, I cleanse inside out of
the bamboo skin with alcohol swab (just in case).
My rice balls to be wrapped.
The menu of that day was
“Rice balls with plum pickle and
julienned kelp stewed in sweetened soy source,
wrapped by salted Shiso leaves.”
They are now wrapped by bamboo hulls
and closed by rubber bands.

Regardless, the taste of rice balls wrapped in my bamboo shoot skin is definitely superior to the beautifully packaged rice balls in plastics sold in department stores. Bamboos contain acetic acid that can act as a natural food preservative in this humid country. Moreover, the rice balls that are warm when packed gradually cool down, and the bamboo hulls absorb the vaporization and prevent the contents from becoming too dry. Until lunch the rice balls are kept soft and delicious even in mid-summer, unlike tightly packed and refrigerated Onigiri in Kombini stores. My rice balls are delicious! Although I have not tried my bamboo skins for sandwiches, they would act in the same way. If you have a chance to obtain bamboo skins from Amazon or somewhere, please try. I guess they can make your packed lunch tastier.

Kanagawa is in high summer!

Oh, by the way the very tip of Phyllostachys edulis shoots is the delicacy for people who know such things. To harvest this part, you boil the shoot together with some skins and cut the tip at about an inch. Peel the harder husks of the tip carefully and obtain creamy layers inside. They are edible, good for spring salads. In Japanese, this part of bamboo shoots is called “Princess Hulls 姫皮.” It might be difficult to meet the princess in restaurants even in Kyoto. If you have a chance to harvest shoots, you’d better try them by yourself. 😇

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