The End of Autumn

 

A Late Summer's Harvest

Last month Aki Matsuura, executive chef at Kojimachi Cafe, visited Tsuda Farm, epietriz's own small farm in Kiyosato, a highland region in the foothills of Yatsugatake just over two hours from Tokyo.  She leaves Tokyo early in the morning, traveling the Chuo Expressway north of Mt. Fuji and passing through Kofu in Yamanashi, a region renowned for its fruits and, in more recent years, award-winning wines.

Aki arrives at Tsuda Farm around 10:30 to find Ken-san, as she affectionately calls her father, already working the farm: picking the final harvest and dismantling the trellis for green beans of various types—romano beans and common beans, among others. Now dried and speckled, Aki and Ken forage through the remaining pods and hull a few husks to inspect their contents. Some pods hold white beans, others black, now dried and many ready for shelling.

Green bell peppers hang amidst low hedges of bushes. These late-season peppers are small, minuscule in comparison to their supermarket cousins, yet Aki plucks them carefully, one by one, to use back at her restaurants in Tokyo.

There is still a faint collage of cherry tomatoes—greens and yellows and reds and deep eggplant purples—that decorate the bushes like a sparse set of Christmas lights. These, too, are picked one by one, letting those that have already burst drop to the ground to become compost for next year’s crop.

Aki and Ken decide on lunch at a local shop, a small restaurant and community center, where a sixty-something man greets us. Aki chooses the hoto—a doughy Yamanashi specialty somewhere between dumplings and udon—in a thick miso broth. Ken orders curry udon, which is not on the menu, but Ken seems have a tacit understanding with the chef. The dishes here are local, all sourced in and around Kiyosato. Father and daughter talk about the local farmers of the area whom Aki has grown to rely on for produce at epietriz’s Tokyo restaurants.

After a light dessert, they make their way to a nearby A-frame cabin to find pumpkins to take back to Tokyo. One large pumpkin can cost upwards of 6,000 yen in the city, but the proprietor here, dressed in flannel and hiking boots, has a great deal for the same price—a half-dozen largish pumpkins and more than a dozen smaller ones.

Crates of ruby-red flowers dry out next to other autumn delights. Our new flannel friend has spent days gathering and drying the last flowering buds of early autumn.

Aki returns to the farm with Ken to finish picking the last of the Swiss chard and squash under the camphor tree and say goodbye to the farm for the season.

A neighbor comes down to chat as the duo packs up and mentions his new mochiko, or rice flour, he is making with leftover rice. He asks Aki if she wants to try it at FACTORY or Manufacture, and Aki, never shying from new experiences, says yes. They talk about experimenting with a new type of gluten-free rice bread, one that Aki humbly says she has yet to perfect.

After short goodbyes with the neighbor, Aki travels a short ten-minutes to parents' home to wash and sort the vegetables. Ken dons rubber boots and sloshes into a brook just beside their log home. At a wooden table nearby Aki’s mother pots seedlings for autumn and winter bedding plants.

Aki packs up—her SUV is filled entirely with produce. What was meant to be a quick trip to the farm ends as an unexpectedly bountiful harvest for epietriz.

The return trip back to Tokyo is quick, and Aki unloads some of the vegetables at Kojimachi Cafe. She then heads to FACTORY, epietriz’s first bakery, where she continues to divvy out vegetables based on the needs of each restaurant—tomatoes here, bell peppers and beans there. Chili Parlor 9, just around the corner, receives a basket of bespeckled beans. FACTORY adjusts its menu for the coming week to accommodate the new arrivals. The tomatoes picked today are destined to garnish a lunch sandwich tomorrow, served alongside a butternut squash soup.

Kiyosato, now cleared for the winter, quietly awaits the coming spring.

Words & Photography by Alex Queen

 
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