Late Autumn Harvest in Nagano

November 27th, 2015 by
Category: Cuisine, Experience, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics
A hearty seven mushroom stew.

Delicious stew with freshly picked mushrooms.

 

Winter is almost upon us. The temperatures have dropped and the tops of the mountains are turning white with frost and early snow. But autumn hasn’t ended just yet, and there are still delicious foods to harvest before the snow swallows it all up. On Wednesday, I joined some travelers from Singapore to go mushroom and apple-picking. We spent the day in Nozawa Onsen and Yamanouchi enjoying the last, but not least, of autumn’s bounty.

 

Mushrooms

Deep in the woods near Nozawa Onsen is an area perfectly suited to the growth of wild mushrooms. A group of local people own and operate the land, and expert guides will take you into the forest for mushroom-picking. Picking season begins in late September and ends at the beginning of December. At the height of season, the area is full of different, tasty varieties. While it’s late now, the cold makes mushrooms that much more delicious. Or poisonous…

Our guide was the owner of the Marunaka lodge in Nozawa. Along the beaten path to mushroom fields, he showed us many wildly growing fungi. The cute little yellow ones, he said, were extremely poisonous and would kill you in just one bite. The goofy dark-brown ones were called tofundake, and caused numerous hallucinations upon ingestion. The disc-shaped white ones were certainly edible, but were also not delicious.

A woman picking a large Shiitake mushroom from a log.

The mushrooms that make it to late Novemer are huge!

The main picking site had rows upon rows of neatly-arranged logs with mushroom bunches poking out here and there. We set off looking for nameko, shimeji and shiitake varieties, and soon people were filling their baskets with prizes the size of their heads. I wasn’t quite as skilled as everyone else and was slightly disappointed in my haul—but it was okay, because we shared our mushrooms for lunch!

Back at Marunaka lodge, we ate a hearty meal featuring the mushrooms that we picked that day. We started with a seven mushroom stew while our guide and chef thoroughly cleaned and checked the mushrooms that we picked. After he removed a few poisonous ones that snuck into our haul, he made fried shiitake and mushroom risotto to finish it off. The meal was huge and brought out the freshness and flavor of all the different mushroom varieties. I still don’t know what half of them were, but I’ll brush up on my fungi and come back next year.

Apples

A close-up of Sun Fuji apples waiting to be picked.

The apples here are also gigantic and difficult to eat by yourself.

In the afternoon, Ryokan Sakaya’s manager, Mori-san, drove us over to Yamanouchi where we visited the orchards and went apple-picking. My shoes are still wet from the cold, slushy rain, but just as the cold brings out the flavor of those mushrooms, it brings out the sweetness of the apples as well.

In late-November and December, Sun Fuji apples are especially delicious. They are Fuji apples that are cultivated without being covered, so they take in maximum sunlight. Their outside coloring somewhat suffers, and is usually a duller red or pink than the protected Fuji apples, but it has a fuller, sweeter flavor. You can tell when they’re ripe because they develop a translucent, yellow center. City folk may think that farmers are injecting honey into their apples, but it’s a natural phenomenon that is commonly seen in Nagano.

A slice of a perfectly ripe Sun Fuji apple with a honey-like translucent center.

A perfectly ripe Sun Fuji. The center is called mitsu in Japanese.

The cap on this bottle of fresh apple juice reads M's Country since 1989.

Juice made from local apples.

The sweet flavor and crispness of these apples is unparalleled, and makes for delicious apple juice. We visited a small family apple juice maker called M’s Country nearby. The mom was there to greet us and tell us about their process. It seemed simple enough: clean the apple, juice the apple, and pasteurize the juice. They make their juice with nothing but apples; no added sugar, preservatives or coloring. At their small factory, they make around 60,000 bottles of juice a year, and each bottle contains about 6 to 7 whole apples! You can taste definitely taste the sweetness of Sun Fuji apples when you try it. It was almost like American apple cider, even without the spices.

Winter is Coming!

It’s taking its sweet time, but winter is on its way. If you find yourself in Nagano soon but without snow, apple or mushroom-picking may be a good way to pass the time and enjoy these foods at the height of their flavor. Who needs squeaky button mushrooms or red delicious apples when you can eat a face-sized Shiitake or a honey-filled Sun Fuji?

Additional Information

Ryokan Sakaya is located behind the O-yu public bath in the center of Nozawa Onsen, and across from a great beer brewery and tap room. It has recently received two michelin stars in the Japanese edition of their green guide book. For information and booking, see their English website.

Marunaka Lodge is off the main road into Nozawa and offers mushroom picking from late September through November. Guests are treated to a meal featuring the very mushrooms they picked. They also offer bamboo shoot picking, snow shoe and forest trekking. You can book through sites such as tripadvisor or booking.com, or get a feel for its atmosphere at their Japanese website.

M’s Country is a small apple juice brewery in the orchards at the foot of Mt. Kosha. Their juice can be bought in souvenir shops in and around the area, including the Yamanouchi Michi-no-Eki (Google maps link) on the way to Shigakogen or the Snow Monkeys.

5 Responses to “Late Autumn Harvest in Nagano

  1. Hi Blair

    How are you? Am writing to you from Singapore and may i know if mushroom and apple picking are still available from 19 Dec 2015 onwards? If not, are there any other similar activities (no skiing or hiking)? My boss and his family of 3 is planning an overnight trip out of Tokyo.

    Appreciate your advise.

    Thank you.

    Regards
    Irene Lim
    Singapore

  2. Hello Irene,

    Winter is on its way and the days are getting colder, but I’m looking forward to all the snow. How are you?
    Apple-picking and mushroom-picking have ended for the year, but there are still fruits to pick in Nagano. At Anzu no Sato in Chikuma city they can pick strawberries and mandarin oranges from their greenhouses. They can’t take any of them home, but they can eat as many as they like while they’re there. Entry into the park is 1,700 yen per person for strawberry picking, and 800 per person for orange picking. The park is a 5 min. taxi ride from Yashiro station, which can be easily reached from Nagano station via the Shinano train line.

    Anzu no Sato Aguri Park
    515-1 Yashiro, Chikuma-shi, Nagano-ken 387-0007
    あんずの里アグリパーク
    〒387-0007 長野県千曲市大字屋代515-1
    Tel: (026)273-4346

    Another culinary activity in Nagano is soba-making. There is a large soba specialty shop in southern Nagano city called the Shinshu Sobakura Drive-in. Reservations are required at least one day in advance but they can be made in English by email. To reach the Drive-in, take the Matsushiro line bus from Nagano station to the Mizusawa-Tenkyuji stop (about 23 minutes). It is next to the bus stop on the left.

    Shinshu Sobakura Drive-in
    7-1 Doai Kinebuchi, Shinonoi, Nagano-shi, Nagano-ken 388-8019
    信州そば蔵ドライブイン
    〒388-8019 長野県長野市篠ノ井杵淵胴合7-1
    Reservation email: sobakura_shinsyu@chikaranomoto.com

    I hope that helps to answer your question!

    Sincerely,

    Blair

  3. Hi Blair

    I am in the tropics (very near the equator in fact) so there are only warm sunny or warm sunny short showers days for us here! Envy the snow you will be getting!

    Grateful for your advise on the outdoor activities. They definitely sound interesting. Do you know of any local guide with transport I can arrange for my boss and his family. They don’t speak a word of Japanese and will prefer to someone bring them around with private transportation on 19-20 Dec 2015.

    Let me know if you have any contacts?

    Thanks!

    Regards
    Irene Lim

  4. Hi Irene,

    We don’t have any information for guides that can give private transport, but we do have information for Japanese/English translators. If you are interested in booking a translator for your boss’s time here, contact us at go-nagano@pref.nagano.lg.jp. There is a possibility that no one will be available for this weekend, but we may be able to work something out.

    Sorry for the inconvenience!

    Sincerely,

    Blair

  5. Hi Blair

    Much appreciated. Will check with my boss.

    Thank you for responding. You are great.

    Regards
    Irene Lim

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