October winds mark the beginning of 45 days of harvesting those odiferous, nutritious, delicious ginkgo nuts. Notorious for its stinky fruit which is discarded, the ginkgo nut itself contains potassium, phosphorus, folate and vitamin A, with traces of zinc, copper and manganese. After cooking, the rubbery jade-green nut tastes very similar to edamame (young soy bean pods) with a hint of that unique ginkgo fragrance.
The health benefits of the ginkgo nut make it worth the effort. The nuts have similar health properties as the leaves, but caution must be used if any allergies to tree nuts exist. The recommended “dosage” of nuts is six to ten daily. With antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and vasodilator properties, Ginkgo is recommended for a variety of ailments, particularly those concerning circulation, heart and lungs.
Gathering the Nuts
Mature female trees can produce larger nuts one-half inch in diameter, while younger trees produce smaller nuts around one-quarter of an inch. When gathering the ripe fruit, people with sensitive skin should wear gloves as the weak organic acids in the outer layer can cause a rash and peeling skin.
The nuts can be easily squeezed out from soft ripe fruit.
The nuts are very expensive if purchased at the store, due to the time it takes to process the small nuts. (Canned nuts, like all canned items, lose flavor and potency.) If the nuts need to be perfect for culinary purposes than slow and careful methods can be used. But for home consumption, or to process an abundant harvest, quicker methods are preferable.
As a general rule, boiled ginkgo nuts will have a stickier shell and denser flavor. Baked nuts will have a brittle shell, drier texture and lighter flavor.
Quick Method 1: Husk off fruit. Dry kernels in a well ventilated area for several weeks. Freeze, or bag and store for later use in a cool, dry area.
Quick Method 2: Husk off fruit. Cover in well-salted water and boil, depending on size, 30 to 60 minutes until the kernels turn a bright jade green.
Quick Method 3: Husk off fruit. Wash kernels. Bake kernels at 275 degrees F until shells brown, roughly 45 to 60 minutes, until kernels turn a bright jade green.
Quick Shelling: Eat individually like pistachios, or place a single layer of nuts between the thick folds of a tea towel. Bash well with a heavy skillet or mallet. The rubbery-ness of the nut makes shelling reminiscent of cracking an egg, by tapping the egg all over and then peeling off the shell.
Quick Skinning: Cover in boiling water. Soak. Roll kernels between palms until skin loosens and comes off.
Traditional approaches usually shell the nut before cooking, which is very time consuming.
Traditional Shelling Methods: Shelling tools recommended range from a mortar and pestle, crab scissors, hammers or pliers.
Traditional Nut Skin Removal: Pour boiling water over shelled ginkgo nuts. Let nuts stand in water 10 minutes. Rub off skin with fingers. The skin can also be rubbed off during the cooking process.
Traditional Cooking Methods: Place nuts into skillet. 1) Cover half-way with salted water. Boil until water evaporates. The warm nuts will be finely crusted with salt. 2) Dry roast in skillet with a little oil. 3) Skewer nuts and grill. Serve with sake. 4) For desserts, boil nuts in sugar water for a jelly bean-like result.
Throughout Asia there are many wonderful recipes that use ginkgo nuts. Japanese, Korean and Chinese kitchens all have unique and tasty approaches. One favorite is Ginkgo Nut Porridge from The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young. Enjoy!
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