Monday, December 6, 2010
I mentioned in a couple of the previous posts that the nuts from the ginko tree are edible, popular in Japan, and were the main point of going to Showa Kinen park in order to collect a bunch of them. Called "ginnan", the nuts are actually inside a smelly berry-like fruit that falls to the ground when the temperature changes in the Fall, about when the maple leaves turn red. Because they are messy, and there are a lot of them, parks and shrines that have ginko trees usually sweep them up to dump them if the visitors don't get to them first. So, while most of the bigger berries were gone by the time we got to Showa Kinen, there were still some left to sift through.
Once we got home, we washed the berries and waited a couple of days for the fruit to soften and get mushy. This let us wash the fruit off. When the shells inside were completely cleaned off, we put them in a basket to dry in the sun another couple days (made the entire apartment stinky). Unfortunately, it got really windy outside and the basket was blown over, dumping the nuts into the dirt. Washing them off again kind of undid the drying that the shells had gone through up to that point.
Normally, for the larger seeds, the shell cracks on its own when it gets dry enough. However, people have been eating these things for generations, and lots of tricks for cracking the nuts without damaging the seeds inside have been posted on the net, including putting them in the microwave for a few seconds (you have to be careful so that they don't explode on you). We used the time-honored approach of hitting them with a pliers.
Presentation is everything. You don't want the seeds to look smushed or damaged. They are a key part of a dish called "chawanmushi" (kind of an unsweetened egg custard with vegetables and maybe a small shrimp or a piece of chicken). We put them into pockets of tofu as part of an oden soup. Notice that the color changes with cooking. The ginnan used in chawanmushi are usually green. Ours turned a pale yellow. The flavor was very mild and not overly noticeable. We had about 40 seeds, and they were all eaten in 2-3 days.