Even in Tokyo, there are very few stores that sell prickly pear.
I know of one in the basement of the “Yoshiike” fresh fish store in front of Okachimachi Station. Conversely, the only other places that sell sansho nuts are at “roadside stations” in the countryside.
Around May, peppercorns are casually sold, and before you know it, they are no longer for sale. It is a food with a short season.
I started buying sansho nuts in early summer because I like sansho tsukudani. In particular, Chirimen sansho, a Kyoto specialty, is so delicious that it makes me sigh and say, “This is amazing. But it is very expensive, so I never have a chance to eat it unless someone gives it to me.
So every year in early summer, I buy sansho berries, prepare them myself, and make sukudani. This has become a regular event for me over the past few years.
Cooking sansho nuts is more time-consuming than it looks. In particular, it is very hard work to pluck each individual prickly ash from the stem. I can see why the prices of products made with sansho are so high, and why it takes so much work to make them.
After a day or more of preparation, the pepper is finally boiled in soy sauce and sugar. The pepper is heated over low heat until the water has evaporated and it becomes thick, but if you accidentally take your eyes off the pepper, it will burn. In the final stages of making tsukudani, I have to keep stirring the cactus in the pot.
This year, I accidentally took my eyes off the peppercorns, and the result was a bit poor. I didn’t mix the soy sauce, mirin and sugar just right, so I ended up with a blackish tsukudani. I wanted to make something a little lighter.
When I tasted the resulting sansho no tsukudani, I found that it had been cooked to the point of almost burning, so the flavor was very strong. It sounds good to say that one bite of the dish will make you eat more and more rice, but the flavor is so strong that the fresh aroma of the sansho is somewhat overshadowed.
After that, we started having sansho no tsukudani at home every day.
At first there was an aroma, but over time the aroma faded. Within a week, eating the cactus would have little or no aroma, and the food would be mainly numbing, sweet, and spicy. In other words, it almost tasted like Chinese pepper (huajiao).
I tried to finish it as soon as possible, but it’s been almost a month and I still haven’t finished it. Next year I will be careful not to be careless in cooking.