Robert & Roberta Adair

ADAIR UPDATE

 

Stories from Robert & Roberta Adair

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Splat! Thunk! Splat! 

I was having a great time throwing balls of sticky bean mixture into a container. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a grownup telling me to stop playing and giggling like a goof . . . or that this much fun could be had in getting beans ready to be transformed into miso.

How did I get started with miso making? In early 2022, a friend from church invited me to join her and a few other women to make miso. Miso is squashed fermented soybeans and used in a lot of Japanese cooking—most commonly miso soup, but it’s also used in marinades, stir fries, and vegetable dips. I usually cook with the stuff sold in a plastic tub at our neighborhood drugstore, and I hadn’t before considered myself to be fancy enough to make my own.

But there I was in a room with several other women: our teacher and her assistant, our little group from church, and three other women who just happened to be there on the same day. These included a mamatomo (mom friend) from eight years ago, one of the midwives from the hospital where our four boys were born, and another woman I had recently met. They didn’t know one another, and I was tickled to reconnect with them in this way. 

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We had been given dried beans beforehand with instructions on how to soak and boil them. Once I boiled mine, I stored them outside behind our house because I had no room in our refrigerator. We all showed up at the community center wearing aprons, masks, and handkerchiefs over our hair. Three of us also wore squirmy toddlers on our backs until another person thankfully took the Wild Things outside. 

The teacher walked us through the process of smashing the beans, mixing in the salt and kōji (fermenting bacteria), and squashing the mixture some more. My favorite step was to make small balls and SPLAT! SPLAT! SPLAT! them into a container to get rid of air bubbles. It felt almost violent—and oh so satisfying. (I imagined myself throwing a ball of bean paste goo up against the wall and starting a food fight with this group of Refined and Lovely Ladies.) 

At the risk of over-spiritualizing the miso making process, I keep thinking about it as a kind of metaphor for the Christian life that I can regularly touch, see, taste, and smell. Being a pretty tactile learner, this helps me. 

 

Soaking

Needing to soak the beans reminds me of being immersed in a safe community—comfortable, not yet required to change, but in an environment preparing one for change. It’s the least painful part of the process but still important. 

 

Boiling

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Boiling is the next step, a process that involves purification and pain. The result is softening (“humbling”) and necessary for a big transformation.

 

Squashing

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This step involves the beans changing shape but their essence remaining the same. Starting as beans and ending as paste, they are then mixed with salt and kōji to both preserve the mixture to start an eight to ten month process of transformation. I think of kōji working like “yeast in the bean paste” (bacteria in the miso) just as the Holy Spirit works in us. 

 

Darkness

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The beans then sit in a dark, undisturbed place. This is where fermentation takes place and where simple beans that would otherwise rot become nourishing and delicious. A weight is placed on top—a “burden” that makes it more difficult for air to enter and allow mold to grow too quickly. 

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This process is a picture (albeit imperfect) of sanctification—being made into something better over time. After sitting in the cool crawlspace under our dining room table for ten months, the beans underwent a chemical transformation, and squashed beans—voila!—became miso. The process involved breaking, smashing, mixing, and splatting. It involved waiting, literally being hidden underground and not being disturbed for a long season. It involved, after ten months, scraping off the surprising-to-me top layer of moldy goo (I assume that was normal? One lady said she mixes it back in her paste, but I assume hers wasn’t quite as gross as mine). 

Now, as I use my “labor of love” to make miso soup, miso chicken, and miso salad dressing, I often think about . . .

  • phases in my life when I was overly comfortable and didn’t feel pressured to change or grow.
  • hard seasons in friends’ lives that are lonely, unseen, and exhausting. They are seeking to trust God in the dark without seeing a whole lot of fruit or answers to prayer.
  • tragic revelations in the lives of public Christians who missed out on the fermenting phase and peaked while still raw beans. As their rottenness is revealed and they give off a Big Stink, the result is broken families, fractured churches, and disoriented followers.
  • the fact that the process can’t be sped up through more effort. More squeezing, more pounding, more splatting, or more salt and kōji won’t help. Maturity can only happen over time, in darkness, and through waiting. 

As I was working on this post, I got a message from my friend asking if I’d like to make miso together again. Of course I said yes!

Roberta Adair


Bethany Panian HoRoberta grew up in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State University. She served for three years in Kosovo with The Christian & Missionary Alliance. After completing her term she enrolled in Wheaton College. Robert, raised in Texas, is a graduate of Texas A&M University. From 2005-2009 he served in southern Japan with A3. Like Roberta, he returned and studied missions at Wheaton College in 2009, which is where their paths converged. After meeting, dating and getting married, they discerned that God was leading them back to Japan. They are currently in Japan through a strategic partnership between A3 and SIM, reaching Japanese people and strengthening the Japanese church.

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