To an eight year-old observer, Kimjang, to me, had everything to do with harvesting of the cabbage; whether they were purchased at the market or harvested from one’s backyard garden, every matriarch of a family would throw their haul into big bins to be washed and salted. A two women task: one ripped the cabbage into halves and then quarters and one rinses and salts. I also remember beautiful piles of fresh ginger and garlic, cured from spring, and crisp moo radish, white and pale green so fresh and juicy you can eat it like an apple. There would be someone or three, slicing, chopping, grating all manner of vegetables and some fruit to the bright red marinade spiked with fiery gochugaru and rice slurry- carrots, green onions, apples, peppers, julienned radish… The women would argue about how much of each ingredient to add and whether to use apples and pears at all! Which of their not so secret family recipe reigns supreme?! There would be laughter and boasting, sweet sound of camaraderie and community.
The important job of making the rice slurry and portioning out saewoojeot was tasked to my mom who became the de-facto maestro of this collective kimchi making project. And at the end doling out the kimchi bundles, making sure that everyone got their fair share to bury for the winter was my grandmother’s job. Sometimes, when I think about Kimjang as I remember it as a child, it wasn’t at all about the kimchi or cabbage or the recipes. It was about town gossip, laughter and talking about the goings on in the town and country. It was a way for me to connect to the maternal figures in my life- my cheek pinching aunts, my doting grandmother and my mother. I was the test taster that gave a big-thumbs up for seasoning and deliciousness even before the fermentation process begins. And as a professional cook now, I wish I can transport myself back to those times, with my own set of pink gloves in hand.