A slower, healthier life on the farm




By Nancy Singleton Hachisu (Riverside, New Jersey: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012, 400 pp., $35, hard cover)

With “Japanese Farm Food,” Nancy Singleton Hachisu presents the reader a rare snapshot of a life that most people will never experience — living and working on a rural Japanese farm and relishing the culinary pleasures that accompany that existence. Hachisu moved to Japan in 1988, intending to stay for a year. Instead, she married a farmer and has spent the ensuing decades cultivating his family farm, along with a deep knowledge about Japanese produce and recipes.

While “Japanese Farm Food” is, in a basic sense, a cookbook, it is also a vivid portrait of Hachisu’s life in rural Japan, filled with compelling, beautiful images of the people she loves, places around her and, of course, the food that she eats. Hachisu’s writing — about adapting to life as a foreigner on a Japanese farm, raising her sons there, the traditions in her community and relationships she has developed with her neighbors — is in many ways as worthwhile as the book’s recipes. In fact, the book can easily be read cover to cover as a sort of memoir, without setting foot in the kitchen, and be thoroughly enjoyed in that way.

That is not to undercut the recipes, which are often simple, focusing on straightforward preparations of flavorful, high quality ingredients. Basic dishes, like tamagoyaki or gyoza, are found among slightly more unique preparations. “Salt Massaged Cucumber with Miso and Sesame” made for a simple but deliciously tangy side dish that was surprisingly addictive. Her version of nikujaga was a hearty, satisfying stew balanced with a refreshing ginger flavor.

Whether one cooks from “Japanese Farm Food” or just sits down to read it, Hachisu momentarily transports us to a rural Japanese farm, allowing us to consider how to incorporate healthy, fresh ingredients into our own menus and to appreciate the hard work that goes into producing these ingredients.

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