It is autumn once more, time again for the annual preservation of winter vegetables, the kimjang, or kimchi making period. Halmoni remembers clearly what an important and busy time this always was. Indeed, it would take the better part of a week to prepare the kimchi for that winter. First, she, and those sisters that were still at home would accompany First Mother and Little Mother down from the mountain house to the market at Sochang. There the streets were piled high with mountains of great Korean cabbage, mounds of giant white radishes, piles of pungent spring onions and knobbly fresh ginger root, and braided ropes of garlic. First Mother prodded the vegetables with the stem of her pipe, checking and rejecting this lot of onions, accepting those cabbages, haggling fiercely over the price, then-- bargain struck, pipe lit, hands folded-- instructed them to be loaded onto the chige-- the wooden A-frame-- that was strapped to the back of the old male servant who had accompanied them down from the mountain. By the time they were finished, that chige would be piled high, the poor old man bent virtually double under the considerable load. But this was to be expected, for after all, it was the kimjang-- the time to make enough winter kimchi to last through spring.
Back home once more, the labour began: first seeding the dried chillies by hand, then pounding, pounding, pounding them into a coarse red pepper powder. The women all wore handkerchiefs over their faces, for the red dust was potent and painful to inhale. If you got some pepper dust on your hands, then scratched your eyes, it would burn for days. The knobbly ginger roots had to be peeled, the fat, juicy cloves of garlic, too, then both were pounded with a pestle in a great wooden mortar, right down to an oozing, pungent, liquid pulp.
Piles and piles of spring onions had to be stripped, then shredded on the diagonal, the giant white radishes, peeled and grated by hand. And of course, the piles of cabbages were all split and quartered, then interleaved with coarse sea salt and left to wilt. First Mother inspected the whole operation, bending a bit of cabbage in her hands to see if it was yet ready, scolding a sister for not shredding the muu finely enough, or rapping Little Mother on the head with the bowl of her long brass pipe. She was, Halmoni remembers, always rapping poor Little Mother with her pipe and scolding her, whether or not she deserved it.
The kimchi seasonings-- red pepper powder, garlic, ginger, and-- very important-- soused fermented anchovies, first boiled then strained (only the liquid was used), were mixed all in enormous tubs by hand. Then, once the cabbage had sufficiently wilted and had been rinsed off, the women sat together, painstakingly interleaving this pungent, red-hot stuffing in between the leaves of the wilted cabbage.
When they had all been so prepared, the cabbages were packed tightly into large earthenware jars, jars so large, remembers Halmoni, that they were even taller than she. These jars were then covered with more wilted cabbage leaves, a weight was placed on top, then they were buried into pits dug into the ground. This allowed the cabbage mixture to ferment at just the right, slow pace, and also kept the kimchi from freezing during winters that were often bitterly cold.
"This winter kimchi," Halmoni says, "would last through March, but by that time it was very sour. We were always happy when spring came and we could make tong chimi-- refreshing, clean white radish water kimchi, made with no chillies or garlic."
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