As temperatures continue to drop, people in Korea have begun preparations for the long winter ahead. The recent weeks from mid-October to late November, in particular, marked a special time of year known in Korea as gimjang season. Just in time, the National Archives of Korea has introduced a new multimedia collection depicting a tradition that in Korea goes hand and hand with winter — gimjang.
Over 2000 people took part in the Gimjang Kimchi Festival that took place in front of Seoul City Hall on November 15. Approximately 140 tons of kimchi were made during the event and later distributed to disadvantaged families. Pictured, participants add various seasonings to their kimchi (photo: Yonhap News).
Gimjang refers to the long tradition of preparing large quantities of kimchi
, Korea’s staple food, before the start of winter. Before the advent of modern refrigeration, fresh produce and other ingredients were hard to come by during the winter, and cooler temperatures also made the labor-intensive process of kimchi-making considerably more grueling. For these reasons, families and communities in the countryside and cities alike made a practice of gathering together, usually before the first snowfall, to make enough kimchi to last the winter. And while both kimchi and fresh vegetables are now widely available all year round, many in Korea still continue the gimjang tradition.
In a photo from 1957 (left), a woman in the countryside loads freshly picked cabbage onto a cart in time for gimjang season. In 1975, almost 20 years later (right), workers at a farm pile cabbage heads onto a truck (photos courtesy of National Archives of Korea).
The collection of eleven video clips and 14 photographs released by the National Archives depicts various scenes that would have been common around gimjang season from the 1950s to the 1990s. Spanning four decades, the pieces in the collection also offer a glimpse of a country undergoing a rapid transition
Among the pieces dating back to the ‘50s and ‘60s, several show scenes of produce-growers transporting their wares to the marketplace. A photo from 1957 shows a woman in the countryside balancing a large basket of freshly picked cabbage on her head, to be unloaded onto a cart piled high with the same round produce. A cow waits to pull the cart. Another photo from the same year shows a similar cart full of long-stemmed radishes instead of cabbage. In another, a line of women in Hanbok sit squinting under the rays of the late autumn sun, waiting for passersby to buy their goods.
Clockwise from top left: A gimjang market in Ahyeon-dong, Seoul in 1963; a gimjang market in the Yongsan district of Seoul in 1977; soldiers sort through radishes to make gimjang in 1966; a promotional video introduces the proper method for making gimjang (photos courtesy of the National Archives of Korea).
Video footage from 1963 shows a group of women packing freshly made kimchi into traditional jars. According to gimjang practice, the jars would be buried underground, where the cool dirt would provide the optimal temperature to store kimchi throughout the winter, warm enough to prevent freezing yet cool enough to prevent the stock from going sour. From the same decade, a larger-scale gimjang market opens in Seoul to shoppers who weave their way through waist-high mounds of cabbage and radishes. A video from 1966 shows a group of soldiers doing their part as they sort through many radishes.
Heading into the 1970s, the marketplace scenes show few signs of change. Shoppers, mostly women, in leather jackets and thick coats make their selection from among veritable hills of cabbage heads, radishes, and other ingredients used in gimjang. These include assorted jeotgal, which are various kinds of salted and fermented seafoods used as seasoning for kimchi. Promotional videos from the period tell citizens about the benefits that will come from that year’s bumper crop, including the news that a five-person family can now make their gimjang for only KRW 10,000. The choice method of transportation is clearly different, with more trains and trucks loading and unloading their goods in bulk.
A vendor sells jeotgal, or various kinds of salted and fermented seafood, as seasonings for gimjang kimchi in 1977 (photo courtesy of the National Archives of Korea).
The records from the 1980s hint at the gradual decline of the gimjang tradition, due in part to the rise of the nuclear family and also the opening of kimchi factories. Images from these factories show mechanized assembly lines and uniformed workers churning out mass quantities of kimchi.
Another new trend in kimchi production (and consumption) is visible in the video footage from the period. A group of people, mostly women, attend a meeting where participants introduce their tasty and unique kimchi recipes. Another group attends a class where they can learn how to prepare different foods with ordinary kimchi ingredients.
Over 2,000 participants make kimchi at the Gimjang Kimchi Festival in front of Seoul City Hall on November 15. Approximately 140 tons of kimchi were made during the event (photo: Yonhap News).
“Amid all the changes that have visited Korea over the past decades, gimjang still plays an important role in our food culture and in our daily lives,” said Chu Gyeong-gyun, head of the Archives Information Service Bureau at the National Archives. “We hope this collection will be an interesting way for people to learn more about this prized tradition.”
More information on the photos featured in this article as well as the full multimedia collection can be found in the monthly archive section of the Korean-language website of the National Archives of Korea: http://contents.archives.go.kr/next/content/viewMain.do.
By Kwon Jungyun
Korea.net Staff Writer