Monday, November 16, 2015

and now for something completely different

Fall on the east coast is beautiful. The change in seasons brings gorgeous colors. Among them the ginkgo tree. 

The end of October saw yet another stretch of bicycle trails opened in Philadelphia. The old rail road bridge from Philadelphia to Lower Merion reopened for foot traffic to much excitement and publicity. As this is on my normal route I thought I'd check it out. From Manayunk (yes, a real name of a real neighborhood in Philadelphia) you can cross over the Schuykill (pronounced SKOO-khll) River and I 76. A bit along the trail you can take a left turn into Laurel Hill West - a beautiful cemetery with fascinating history.

Headed straight up from the trail you encounter an alleé of  ginkgo trees. Unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me when they were at their most beautiful golden fall hue.
But you can kind of get the idea, no?
Why am I so interested in these now that the color is gone? Good question...

Legend has it that back in the day (10 years ago) there were still little old Asian ladies in Philadelphia in their pink sweat pants, with heavy knitted sweaters, crocheted hats and wellies, who would swarm the ginkgo fruit strewn streets to collect the fruits. 

You'd think in this environmental, grow local, eat organic, fresh, free-range city we'd ALL be collecting the fruits for the taking... but alas, there is a catch... they stink. And I'm not talking the whiff of body odor or a barnyard on the wind, I'm talking a combination of a fresh doggy dookie and vomit shoved up your nose kind of stench.
But I've heard the fruit is incredibly yummy, not to mention healthy so I just had to give this endeavor a try.  This past Friday, I rode my bike out with back pack and accouterments to collected the prize(s).

There were literally heaps of them. Like someone already started scooping them into mounds.

 Fifteen pounds later in three garbage bags in my backpack I headed for home.  
I do wonder if I carried the stench with me on the wind. As my Danish host mother would say when I used too much garlic in my cooking, "it's okay. No one attack you tomorrow." Yeah, well, with a backpack full of this stuff, I'm sure I was well protected.

And as if the stench were not enough, the fruit contains the same toxin as poison ivy. Gloves are a must when collecting, sorting, and cleaning. 

I was actually a little worried because while I had gloves for the collecting, once I got home I didn't. When you don't have water to rinse the toxic gloves, you just pull them off inside out. But then they are done. At home I put on dish gloves under garden gloves, but there were some holes, not to mention that whatever is in the fruit eats right through latex so some of the juice seeped into the gloves. I was worried about a reaction, but luckily I washed my hands thoroughly and slathered them with calendula all night. They were fine in the morning.

I also have to say that I understand why the younger generation doesn't bother about the fruits. This was fun for the one time. I've done it - I can say I harvested ginkgo fruits. And I can also say that I don't think I ever need to do it again. It's stinky, messy, cold,  - and did I mention stinky? Plus, once you are finished, you cannot gorge yourself on the fruit! If eaten in large quantities it's toxic. No more than 10 nuts per day. Hardly seems worth it. 

How do they taste? DEE-licous. Oh boy. wow. Very difficult to only eat 10.
I sautéed them in olive oil and salt. They taste a little like popcorn, but they are chewy rather than crunchy, and if the meat hits the hot oil it caramelizes a little bit.
Actually, I probably ate 20 yesterday because I couldn't stop - they tasted so good!
 I did pay for it a little bit. I got a crampy tummy towards the afternoon and didn't feel good. But that was it. I have a feeling that if you eat too many in one sitting you feel a little sick, but if you eat too many everyday, that's when the real damage happens.  A quick search on the interwebs gives a mixed bag of results of health benefits. Some say - yay! Great! other say  - hmmm - maybe. I say, if they were really so bad would an entire culture have been eating them for so long?

I think not. And at 5-10 per day? I think I'm set for  the year.