Saturday, 21 May 2022

Whispers of Adzuki Beans

'Sweet Bean Paste' by Durian Sukegawa (who has neither a website, nor a Wikipedia entry) (though the film of the book does) is a lovely tale of friendship and redemption. Sentaro runs a dorayaki stall, rather half-heartedly it seems, until he encounters Tokue, who teaches him how to make his own sweet bean paste filling rather than using the packaged flavourless stuff. It does not lead him to become suddenly successful, to fix the problems with his life, because it is the other things she teaches that are more important. Tokue had had her life stolen away by contracting leprosy as a young girl and being confined by draconian laws, despite being cured. Her attitude to life contrasts starkly with Sentaro, who has wasted his own, spending some years in prison and then drinking his time away. He resists being drawn in by Tokue but can't help himself. They become a little trio with the addition of a schoolgirl Wakana, one of a group of regular customers that Tokue befriends. Just a nice book, people caring about people and making the world a better place to be.

"On the occasions when Sentaro had attempted to make bean paste, he always left the beans on the stove to cook until they were soft. Not Tokue, however; her method was completely different.
To begin with, she immediately added more water as soon as the water was about to boil. She did this several times, then drained the beans in a strainer and threw away the cooking water. After that she returned them to the pot to soak in fresh lukewarm water; that would remove the bitterness and astringency, she said. Next she stirred when gently with a wooden spatula, taking care not to squash them while letting them simmer thoroughly over a low heat. At every stage in this process Tokue kept her face so close to the beans it was enveloped in steam. What was she looking at, Sentaro wondered. Was she watching for some kind of change? He moved closer to examine the adzuki through the haze of steam but couldn't see anything significant.
He watched Tokue holding the wooden spoon with her gammy hands as she scrutinised the beans, observing her side-on. Sentaro hoped that she wasn't going to require the same level of enthusiasm from him. Just the thought of it made his spirits sink.
Without quite knowing why, however, Sentaro found himself also drawn to gazing at the beans in the pot. He watched them jiggle about, covered by the water; not a single one lost its shape." (p.24-5)

Stay safe. Be kind. Watch those beans.

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