Last night I made mochi. This is an annual family thing going back to my earliest memories when my grandfather, father, at least one of my uncles and, I think some friends used to pound the rice by hand. I remember my grandmother being very fast at turning. Even when I graduated to being the turner, I could never be as fast. Now we use a fancy machine.
This is mochi making the old fashioned way – a lot of hard work and pounding. In the photograph, you can see two people working the glutinous rice. One person is pounding and the other person is turning and wetting the mochi. They are working in sync with each other – good teamwork! And just as well – otherwise one of them could get hurt!
This could have been my family! We made so much that the rice was soaked in a clean washtub. My grandfather made these square wooden steamer boxes that stacked with a cover for the top one. I think they were lined with cheese cloth. Each was filled with one batch of high gluten (sweet) rice and the whole thing was placed over a large pot of boiling water. My mother and grandmother would watch carefully and when the rice in the bottom box was ready it would be removed and rushed to the basement to be dumped in the usu which was a largish stone mortar which was kept warm.
Two of the men would use long-handled (I remember them resting in a bucket of water between use) wooden mallets, kine, (also made by my grandfather) and begin gently mushing the rice around. After the grains were beginning to stick together, they would start pounding with alternate swings. When the grains of rice had just about disappeared, it was time for a single and a turner.
When it was done, it was turned out onto trays covered with corn starch. After cooling and resting for a day, it was cut into squares. Some was kept for New Year’s Day o-zoni. This is a soup made with various vegetables with toasted squares of mochi. Some was given away to people in the city (we lived on a small farm) for their New Year and some was frozen for later use.
Part of one batch was always eaten fresh with small balls of it dropped into grated daikon radish flavored with lemon and soy sauce. We always have friends over to share.
This little movie was made a couple of years ago and shows our machine (which streams and then kneads) at work. You can hear our family discussion in the background.