Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Stinko Ginkgo

Come here.


Can you smell the ginkgo? No? Consider yourself lucky!

Actually, despite the putrid smell of ripe ginkgo fruit, many (myself included) anticipate their arrival every fall. Come October I stuff my pockets full of latex gloves and plastic grocery bags and wander the streets and parks of New York City breathing deeply, searching for female ginkgo trees.

The ripe fruit really DO smell like cheesy vomit (I don't mince words) but the nut inside the fruit is an under-appreciated delicacy in the US of A. If you get a whiff of something putrescent as you're walking down the street, look up.

Perhaps you'll see branches laden with cantaloupe colored fruit above your head, or even better...perhaps the fruit will have started to fall, indicating it's ripe and ready to collect.
Put on those latex gloves and pinch the fruit to squeeze out the kernel inside. This is what you'll be taking home with you. (The first time I foraged for ginkgo I made the mistake of bringing the whole fruit home. That stench fills up a studio apartment mighty fast, let me tell you!) When you get your harvest back to the kitchen, run the nuts under water to get off the last shreds of smelly flesh. Then, spread them on a cookie sheet and roast for an hour at 350 degrees.

Once the nuts have been roasted, place them between two dish towels and tap with a hammer. After destroying a few, you’ll get a feel for how hard to hit without shattering the nuts.

For pure ginkgo enjoyment, fry the shelled nuts in a little oil and toss with coarse salt. This is an excellent autumn snack with cold beer, cider, or a glass of wine. They’re also a tasty addition to stir fries and soups, adding unexpected texture. Or, try making a pesto from ginkgo nuts and basil; this takes perfect advantage of the cheesy nuttiness of the ginkgo seed.

Ginkgo pesto
In a food processor, combine 1 cup roasted, shelled gingko nuts with 1 Tbs. olive oil and 1 cup fresh basil leaves. (Yes, the end of basil season overlaps with ginkgo season.) Pulse until the mixture is a coarse paste (adding more oil if necessary), then season with salt and pepper to taste. You won’t need cheese; the ginkgo nuts do double duty in this recipe. The pesto keeps in the refrigerator for up to a month. At room temperature the oil may separate, so be sure to stir well before using.


Anonymous said...

The female gingko tree on my block has zip for fruit this year. Less stinky, but I guess I won't be getting any gingko nuts since I can't forage afield with this injury.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Ellen... A professor neighbor of mine had a visiting academic from Asia staying with his family, and she was amazed and delighted by all the 'free food' she found on the streets of Philadelphia. She brought her foraged ginkgo nuts back to the professor's home and used them in all kinds of dishes, but especially soups.

Ellen Zachos said...

Denise! Thanks for stopping by.

When I'm foraging for ginkgo, the only people who DON'T stop and ask me what I'm doing are the Asian women.

Imagine the looks I got when I went into a nursery looking for a female ginkgo tree...most people avoid them like the plague but it's the only kind I want to plant!

Anonymous said...

Funny, I had no idea that you could eat the ginkgo nut. I actually went to the BBG the other day and was inspired by a bonsai ginkgo I saw. I collected a bunch of the fruit from Ft. Greene Park this weekend and am going to try to start a couple and see if I can't get a bonsai of my own going. Although now, maybe I'll save a few for pesto too...

Ellen Zachos said...

Oh, Robie, you should definitely save a few seeds out to eat! I applaud your patience in starting your own bonsai. I'm not usually a big bonsai person but there's a gorgeous ginkgo bonsai on loan to the NYBG right now as part of their Kiku celebration and I found it very inspiring.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this on nytimes.com and thought of you! Funny how ginkgo inspires so much curiosity in these parts.


Anonymous said...

We are looking for Ginkgo biloba plants for cultivation purpose.In this regard, please inform us where i can get the seeds.

Ellen Zachos said...

Sorry Anonymous, I can't recommend anyone who sells Gingko seeds. You could easily collect them yourself, also, a quick Google search for "gingko seeds" turns up several vendors. I don't have any personal recommendations, since I harvest the seed to eat, not plant!

Unknown said...

My big female gingko will be dropping a good bit of fruit this Fall. Anyone who wants it should email me at ms.peteshill@gmail.com. I'll provide further info.
By the way, this tree is often the last gingko to drop its fruit. -- Flora

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