The Story of “Yu-un” Kanazawa Yubeshi


This is the story of the recreation of yubeshi, as it was made during the Edo era, by Masakatsu Nakaura, the fourth-generation owner of Yubeshi Souhonke Nakauraya. He was aided by translations into modern Japanese and production supervision performed by Professor Tomoko Sue of Kanazawa Gakuin Graduate School. We believe, however, that it is our mission to continue to bring Kanazawa yubeshi, including Yu-un, from its origins in the past to the generations to come.


「柚雲」 Yu-un


I. Recreating the Yubeshi of the Edo Era


The goal: to recreate the yubeshi eaten by the lord of the Maeda Clan of the Kaga Domain, hundreds of years ago. What seemed at first like a dream was finally completed in the autumn of 2008.


Funaki Dennai, the chef who served the Maeda Clan, and his son Yasunobu, left behind a vast collection of written recipes. A century later, at the end of Japan’s feudal era, Kojima Tameyoshi, who served as the chef for the Maeda Clan, also wrote about a variety of recipes for yubeshi. The recipe used as the basis for this recreation was that of Funaki Yasunobu, the top chef who served under the tenth and eleventh lords of the Maeda Clan in the second half of the 18th century, as listed in his collections of writings on cooking.


Within these writings, there was a recipe from the Edo era for maru-yubeshi made inside of a whole yuzu fruit, named “Yu-en.” The basic recipe was as follows:


1. Leaving the outside of the yuzu as intact as possible, carefully remove the flesh inside of the fruits, then steam the rinds.


2. Put coarse domyoji-ko into water that has sake added to it, and let soak overnight.


3. Combine the rehydrated domyoji-ko with sugar and the yuzu flesh, then fill the yuzu rinds about 80% full with the mixture. Place in a steamer lined with straw and steam for about 20 minutes. When steamed, the domyoji-ko granules will swell to fill the yuzu rinds.


4. Let rest for a day to cool, then steam again for about 15 minutes. This time, scrape the top openings of the yuzu rinds with a spatula that has been coated with extra-strong tamari soy sauce, and add two or three walnuts to each.


5. Let rest for two to three days, then press with a board to even out the shape. Wrap each one in washi paper and place in an area with good ventilation to dry.


Unlike today’s maru-yubeshi, this older recipe for Yu-en calls for domyoji-ko. Domyoji-ko (steamed and dried mochi rice pounded into granules, or hoshii) was named for the fact that, since the late middle ages, high-quality hoshii has been made near Domyoji Temple in Kawachi Province. Domyoji Temple, incidentally, has deep ties with the great figure Sugawara no Michizane.


It requires a great deal of time and effort to make a Yu-un, the maru-yubeshi of the Edo era, in the same way that it would have been made back then.


Only the very finest yuzu fruits harvested within the city of Kanazawa are used to make these. The walnuts used are grown in the Noto peninsula of Ishikawa Prefecture, and the tamari soy sauce is specially made with both soybeans and salt from Noto, as well.


II. The “Un” in the Modern “Yu-un”


The name “Yu-un” consists of the “yu” in “yuzu” and “un,” which literally means “cloud.” What, exactly, is the name supposed to mean, though?


The writings on cooking left by the Funaki family and Kojima Tameyoshi sometimes make reference to one “Lord Shoun-in,” in passages stating things such as “Lord Shoun-in quite enjoyed this.”


This “Shoun-in” was the posthumous name of the fifth feudal lord of the Maeda Clan, Tsunanori (1643–1724). Tsunanori strove to promote education and literature, and famously compiled a collection of craftwork specimens and old writings from throughout Japan, known as the Hyakko Hisho (“Comparison of 100 crafts”). In addition, he also introduced a form of Noh play known today as Kaga Hosho. Tsunanori is considered to be of the same degree of significance within the history of the Kaga Domain as Maeda Toshiie, the founder of Kaga Domain, the second lord, Toshinaga, and the third lord, Toshitsune. It could be said that the culture of Ishikawa Prefecture as a home for craftwork has its roots in Tsunanori’s achievements. Tsunanori’s father, Mitsutaka, died young, when Tsunanori was just three years old; from that point on, Tsunanori spent nearly all of his eighty years as a ruler. In 1689, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the fifth shogun, bestowed the Maeda Clan with treatment akin to that of the three main families of the Tokugawa Clan, due to Tsunanori’s rule.


In the entries for yubeshi in the recipe books themselves, there is no direct mention of “Lord Shoun-in.” However, based on other accounts, it is not difficult to speculate that later lords of the Kaga Domain gratefully enjoyed the same cooking that Tsunanori had himself enjoyed.


The recipe recreated here was recorded by Funaki Yasunobu, who served as chef under the tenth lord of the Kaga Domain, Shigemichi. Shigemichi’s posthumous name, “Taiun-in,” contained the same “un” (“cloud”) as “Shoun-in.” Shigemichi was himself well known for encouraging the popularization of Noh and Kyogen plays, such as Kaga Kyogen.


In honor of the area’s history, we named our Kanazawa yubeshi “Yu-un,” after the “un,” or “cloud,” of the posthumous names Shoun-in and Taiun-in.


Recipe books show that by the late 1600s, there were already yubeshi recipes that used domyoji-ko; these recipes, however, used miso instead of soy sauce as an ingredient. Yubeshi made with soy sauce and a greater amount of sugar, on the other hand, are nowhere to be found in records before Yu-un yubeshi. It could be said that this was the chef’s specially-made yubeshi, meant just for these feudal lords.


III. Characteristics of Yu-un


The most striking aspect of each Yu-un is the fresh flavor belied by its appearance: you can taste all of the fresh yuzu used to make each one. Unlike other modern maru-yubeshi, Yu-un is made the old-fashioned way, allowing you to enjoy the texture of the domyoji-ko and the tartness of the yuzu. As soon as you cut into it, the light citrus fragrance of yuzu fills the air; one taste and you’ll be shocked at the deliciously fruity flavor. And despite the fact that yubeshi is designed to keep for years, Yu-un has a distinct freshness to it more akin to soft, moist namagashi Japanese unbaked sweets.


When I first tried one, I honestly couldn’t believe it was a recreation of the same preparation techniques used hundreds of years ago during the Edo era. I was shocked at the effectiveness of the food preservation techniques of the time.


Today’s Yu-un, a faithful recreation of the deliciously fruity yu-en eaten by the Maeda Clan, lords of the Kaga Domain, hundreds of years ago, is a distinctly Japanese sweet that is old, yet new.