By Sayuri Nitani / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKIMINO, Wakayama — Now is the season for delicious wild vegetables, including coiled fern shoots known as fiddleheads. Some wild vegetables must have strings removed, or require precooking to eliminate bitterness, but one tasty exception is kogomi, the fiddleheads of the ostrich fern. I visited Kimino, Wakayama Prefecture, where the cultivation of the wild vegetable has been promoted in recent years.
Kogomi can be found in the wild growing in semi-shaded areas in mountains, forests and riversides. With their curly tips and vivid green color, they bring a touch of spring to the dining table. Their texture becomes slimy as you chew them, which is a characteristic of kogomi, along with its initial crunchiness.
Wakayama Prefecture, a major production area for mikan tangerines and persimmons, is facing the aging of farmers and other issues. To address the situation, the prefectural forestry research institute focused on kogomi, which can be grown on abandoned farmland without much labor.
In 2013, it compiled guidelines for kogomi cultivation and called on farmers to grow the plant. The prefecture has an edge in that it can ship kogomi grown outdoors earlier than production areas in the Tohoku region. The production of kogomi in the prefecture was 547 kilograms in 2016, more than double the 2013 figure.
In the town of Kimino, in northern Wakayama Prefecture, Noriyuki Kitamine, 74, grows kogomi by covering part of his farmland with fabric to give his plants the shade in which they thrive. As I entered the covered area, I could clearly see many vivid green kogomi plants standing upright even though it was shady. Together with his wife, Mitsuyo, 68, Kitamine cut kogomi measuring about 13 centimeters in height one by one with scissors.
“Three days after buds appear on the ground, they grow to this size,” he said. “We pay attention to them so that we will not miss the best harvest time.”
Kitamine began cultivating kogomi five years ago when he planted young ones distributed by an agricultural organization in the town as a trial. Now, he cultivates the wild vegetable on 100 square meters of land.
Once the ferns are planted, they propagate themselves, so it is not necessary to replant them every year. Kitamine spreads compost on the land twice a year, in January or February and again around March, before the buds appear. Then, all he has to do is watering and weeding. Kogomi are shipped to Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe in early to mid-April. This year’s shipment of kogomi produced in Kimino is now complete.
Kitamine, who used to grow mainly persimmons, said: “Since kogomi are lightweight, harvesting and shipping them are much easier. Since I began using fabric to shade the plants from the sun last year, the stalks get fewer small leaves, which makes the kogomi more attractive.”
Kentaro Tsuchiya, 32, an official at JA Nagamine, a local agricultural cooperative, said kogomi rarely suffer damage from disease and insects. “It is possible to grow them without using pesticides,” he said. “I hope people will enjoy safe and fresh kogomi in western Japan.”
Freshly harvested kogomi were being cooked at Toki no Koda, a Japanese restaurant in Wakayama. In addition to kogomi tempura and rice cooked with the fiddleheads, I was surprised by tuna carpaccio topped with raw kogomi. They have a stronger aroma than when cooked, and are more flavorful.
Mitsuko Toda, 35, the owner of the restaurant, said, “We can eat fresh kogomi uncooked. I hope many people come to know the charms of kogomi, which can be cooked in various ways.”
To cook kogomi, blanch the fiddleheads in boiling water for 30 seconds to 60 seconds and then immerse them in cold water. They also go well with condiments such as mayonnaise. To store kogomi, wrap them in newspaper to prevent them from withering before putting them in the refrigerator. Use as early as possible.
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