Emily Stewart, executive chef at Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits, says that umeboshi "tastes like a Warhead that's been tossed in vinegar, but with the texture of a pickled smushy fruit." Made from the ume fruit, which is often referred to as a Japanese plum but is actually more like an apricot, umeboshi are packed in salt and left to ferment in their own liquid.
"[Ume] are naturally salty and sour, and then [the Japanese] really lean into that flavor profile," Stewart says. Famously, samurai warriors would eat umeboshi to promote vitality and energy before going into battle.
Challenged by Ben Lustbader of Giant to create a dish with umeboshi, Stewart stuck with what she knows best: pie. "I definitely thought it would be easier to do a savory biscuit," she says. "But it was much more of a challenge to go sweet, so I wanted to honor the spirit of this and go with pie." The salty, sour flavor of umeboshi isn't a natural fit for pie, according to Stewart, so she considered what has a similar flavor profile. "Lemon is the most puckery, sour fruit you can bake with," she says. "Once I started thinking of it as a parallel to that, it really helped me come up with ideas of how to use it in a sweet application."
Stewart considered blanching the umeboshi to remove some of the salt, but says that because the fruit is so mushy to start with, "it basically disintegrated." What she settled on was a take on Shaker pie, which is traditionally made with lemons. The frugal Shakers avoided waste whenever possible, and used whole lemons—pith, peel, seeds, and all—in their pies. The lemons are sliced thin and macerated in sugar for 24 hours or more, which is essentially what Stewart did with umeboshi for her pie. First, though, she dried them on a rack for a day to make them easier to slice.
Emily Stewart of Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits
Stewart combined one part umeboshi with three parts sugar and let the mixture sit for 36 hours, which breaks down the fruit. "The natural pectin from the plum is drawn out with the sugar, and it almost turns into a jelly," she says. After folding in a few tablespoons of flour, several eggs, and a little butter and honey, she poured the mixture into a pie crust she'd rolled out, arranged in a pie pan, and brushed with egg wash. "Most recipes, we add salt," she says. "This doesn't need any more salt."
Shaker pie always has a top crust, Stewart says, so she laid another piece of rolled-out dough over the filling and crimped the edges, being careful not to let the filling squeeze out. Over the top she sprinkled Sugar in the Raw to add texture, sweetness, and caramelization, then baked the pie for a total of about an hour.
Cutting into the finished pie, Stewart appeared a bit disconcerted. "It's very pink," she said. "That is a lot of umeboshi there, that's for sure. I'm not backing down." But after tasting it, she pronounced the flavor good. "It's really bright, tart; the saltiness has been cut by the sugar but you get a lot of that bright citric acid flavor."
Stewart has challenged John Kirchner of GT Prime to create a dish with Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme. "Make me a steak with that, Johnny," Stewart says.