By Yoko Tanimono / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterYAMAGATA — The chrysanthemum is one of the flowers that symbolizes autumn. The harvest season for edible chrysanthemums, which delight with their vivid colors and crispy texture, reaches its peak during this season.
Edible chrysanthemums, originally grown for ornamental purposes, were improved to become softer and less bitter. Large flowers are used to make ohitashi, or boiled and seasoned petals, and small ones are often used as an accompaniment to dishes such as sashimi.
Though ranking second for overall production of edible chrysanthemums, Yamagata Prefecture tops the list of prefectures that produce large varieties. They are grown in cities including Yamagata and Sagae.
As there are many varieties, harvesting large edible flowers is possible throughout the year. But demand rises around Sept. 9, the day of the Choyo festival of chrysanthemums, and shipments reach their peak at that time.
In mid-September, a greenhouse belonging to Kazumasa Murooka, 38, in Yamagata was filled with a vivid purple color. It was a surprise as I had just thought of the chrysanthemum as yellow.
The chrysanthemum being grown here was benimotte, the main purple variety. Today, more farmers reportedly grow purple chrysanthemums than yellow ones because they sell often at higher prices.
Benimotte flowers are relatively flat and have more of a reddish tone than other purple varieties. After raising cuttings in April, farmers plant them in May. The plants begin to bud around July and gradually bloom over the course of a month.
In Murooka’s greenhouse, there were about 150 plants as tall as 1.2 meters. Each plant seemed to bear about 30 flowers. He chose flowers in bloom, skillfully handpicking them one by one.
Murooka, whose father fully entrusted him with edible flower cultivation two years ago, said that the job has been full of worries.
“Watering is the hardest part. I need to water them every day, little by little,” he said, adding that the fight against bugs also gives him trouble.
“I give them extreme attention, while frequently using pesticides on them,” he said.
The flowers’ appearance matters, too. If the central part pops out like a protruding navel or the diameter does not reach 5 centimeters, they cannot be shipped as they do not meet standards. On the other hand, when good flowers grow, it brings extraordinary joy to him, Murooka said.
In a greenhouse for a variety called kotobuki, a principal yellow chrysanthemum, flowers were bigger than those of the benimotte and are brilliant yellow.
Flowers picked early in the morning are packaged by Murooka’s wife, Hiromi, 38. After the product is checked at the collection point at JA Yamagata’s central farming center, the flowers are shipped to Tokyo and other markets.
According to Kenichiro Tada, an official in charge of fruit and vegetable sales at the center, the number of farmers who grow edible chrysanthemums is decreasing because the number of chrysanthemum consumers is declining and because it is difficult to cultivate the flowers. Therefore, young farmers like Murooka bear high expectations, Tada said.
“Edible chrysanthemum is the traditional vegetable of Yamagata Prefecture,” Murooka said. “I want to spread the taste by gaining new skills and learning cultivation methods from my father and veteran farmers to improve the quality.”
Edible chrysanthemums produced in Yamagata Prefecture are available at supermarkets in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Though prices vary, a pack of about 80 grams usually sells for between ¥300 and ¥400. Murooka suggests trying the flowers as ohitashi. After the water boils, add some vinegar to the water and briefly blanch the broken up flower petals with this liquid, then soak them in cold water. Squeeze out the water and season the chrysanthemums with vinegar and soy sauce. According to Murooka, sprinkling the petals over salad or sushi, or tossing them with some spinach will give these dishes a colorful finish.
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