The Gingko Experiment: The beginning

When we moved into our house here in Chicago nine years ago (did I just say nine?!), my parents came for a housewarming visit in the Fall. It was early September, and I was giving my Dad a tour of the front of the house.

“…and here is the front porch, Dad. Uh, Dad?”

No answer. I turned to face my Dad and sure enough, he was staring up into a couple of trees in front of the house and not listening to me one bit.

“Uh, what are you looking at? Did you see a squirrel or something?” I asked.

“Jeanne, do you know what these are?” he said using his whiny sarcastic voice to poke fun.

“You mean ‘trees’?” I replied, grinning. “Hey, by the way, something stinks. Smells like something died over here.”

He reached down and picked up what looked like a perfectly round jade-green grape.

“This is a gingko nut and these are gingko trees – one male and one female. How lucky you are!”

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If it wasn’t for my Dad and our Korean heritage, I may have spent these nine years not knowing the treasure that grew right in front of my house. Instead, the tree may have just been the source of a putrid stink from pulp staining the sidewalk brownish red as people squashed the nuts under their feet.

Gingko nut trees (also known as Maidenhair trees) are considered “living fossils” as they are biologically the oldest trees in the world. The Chinese especially revere the tree and its nuts as sacred. It is known as the Silver Almond Tree, White Nut Tree, or Ancestor Tree. The nuts are still used in East Asian cooking today, especially in Japan and Korea. In Korea, it’s popular to thread the nuts onto pine needles or skewers, and then grill them. In Japan, one may be lucky enough to find a gingko nut in a chawanmushi or matsutake mushroom soup. The gingko biloba extract is famous for its medicinal properties as well.

Today, I woke up to a refreshingly rainy September morning and thought of my father as the leaves of the gingko tree rippled outside my window. My forager instinct bloomed instantly and I anxiously went outside to reacquaint myself with the smelly gems.

Alas, the nuts still have yet to turn orange and slightly soft. And the stink certainly hasn’t reached its full potency.  I’ll need to wait a bit longer.

No matter. I can wait, my pretties!

Cooking them of course will be the next challenge; this being no easy feat. Preparing gingko nuts isn’t just stinky and messy, it can actually severely irritate the skin. There are days for drying as well before cooking can even begin.

But who doesn’t love a challenge? Stay tuned…

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