You can smell ginkgo fruit long before you arrive at the tree, and it’s not a pleasant experience. But once you get rid of the stinky orange pulp, there is a culinary jewel waiting in the “nut” inside.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is a fascinating tree. Apparently it is a living fossil that evolved before there were flowering plants. Ginkgo’s fan-shaped leaves with veins running all the way to the edges of each leaf are unique among trees. In autumn they turn bright yellow before falling. The leaves are the part of the tree used to produce the memory-enhancing tinctures you can buy at the health food store. These trees are disease and insect resistant and can be extremely long-lived. There are ginkgo trees in China that are close to 2,500 years old! They are also pollution-tolerant, which is one reason so many ginkgos have been planted as street trees in cities.
There is a catch, though: there are both male and female ginkgo trees, and only the males were intended to planted used as street trees (they don’t produce the smelly fruits). But when they aren’t fruiting, the male and female trees are difficult to tell apart, and numerous fruiting female ginkgos found their way to our streets and parks. That’s good news for urban and suburban foragers. The orange fruits, about the size of a ping pong ball, ripen and fall to the ground in the fall. Inside the smelly pulp is a thin-shelled kernel about 3/4-inch long that is easily cracked. And inside that there is a pistachio-green “nut” that is delicious once roasted.
The roasting part is not optional — raw ginkgo nuts are not edible. See the directions below for how to roast ginkgo nuts. I should mention that scientifically ginkgo nuts are not really nuts and ginkgo fruits are not really fruits. Somehow roasted gametophytes doesn’t sound as tasty as roasted ginkgo nuts, so I’m going to stick with the commonly used culinary name and ignore the scientific jargon. Ginkgo is a popular food in Asian communities where people often “field dress” — clean on the spot — the nuts. You’ll know that’s what happened when you find a heap of the smelly pulp at the base of a ginkgo tree and all the nuts are gone. Then again, you don’t have to be in an Asian community for that to happen. It also occurs if I got there before you did.
Autumn and early winter storms can be a boon to ginkgo collectors. The smelly pulp gets washed off of fruits that had already fallen to the ground, sparing foragers from the messiest part of the harvest. Some people get a rash from the juices of the pulp. Just to be on the safe side, wear gloves or cover your hands with plastic bags when collecting ginkgo. What do ginkgo nuts taste like? Sort of like a cross between walnuts and a barely pungent cheese such as brie.
How to Roast Ginkgo Nuts
Reminder: this is not optional. Raw ginkgo nuts are not edible. Wash off any pulp clinging to the shells. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 300-degree-Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes.
Tamari Ginkgo Snack
Toss already roasted (see instructions above), shelled ginkgo nuts with a little tamari or soy sauce. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 5 minutes or just until the tamari coating dries on the nuts. Really good with a pint of homebrew.
Ginkgo “Cheese” Spread
Puree roasted, shelled ginkgo nuts in a food processor with just enough extra-virgin olive oil to make a smooth paste. Mix in salt to taste.
Preserving Roasted Ginkgo Nuts
The best way to preserve ginkgo nuts is to store them, roasted but unshelled, in tightly sealed containers in the freezer.
Leda Meredith is the author of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. You can watch her foraging and food preservation videos, and follow her Leda's Urban Homestead. Her latest book is Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke...and More.
Fall is in the air, and I have been busy making lots of yummy autumn treats. One of my favorites is this delicious Crockpot Candied Cider. Delicious cinnamon candy melts into the juice adding a delightful sweetness to this hot beverage. The aroma it lends to your home is a pleasure in itself. Enjoy this treat on a brisk fall evening and enjoy its comforting warmness.
Crockpot Candied Cider Recipe
1 cup organic Cinnamon spice candy (like Pure Fun Organic Cinnamon Spice Jaw Boulders)
64 ounces organic apple juice or cider
Simply spread cinnamon spice candy around the base of a crock pot. Pour apple juice or cider over the candy. Turn the crock pot on low and give it a stir. Continue stirring every 30 minutes until candies are completely melted. This process should take a couple of hours.
Candied cider is great for a fall gathering and makes several servings. If you wish to share with a smaller group, it can easily be halved. Enjoy this sweet taste of autumn. Cheers!
Even as we wave buh-bye to summer, many of us still are reveling in rich, ripe, heirloom tomatoes, as well as in ice creams, because both just keep getting better and better. One of the earliest ice cream companies we know of is Bassett’s, out of Philadelphia. As a kid, Tom Hughes, co-founder of The Food Museum, recalls that hitting the Bassett’s counter at Philly’s Reading Terminal Market was the highlight of a trip into the city, for a kid from suburban Jersey. “My Dad and I headed straight to Bassett’s on arrival, jumped on those stools, and I ordered pumpkin ice cream.”
The place where this still thriving company was born is also in New Jersey, in Salem. There, in 1861, a Quaker schoolteacher and farmer named Lewis DuBois Bassett apparently first hooked up his mules to a churn and began making ice cream in his backyard. We do not know where his farm was, as evidently it has not been preserved. So a food heritage site for New Jersey has been lost. Not lost, however, is the mythical tale of another Salem resident, one Colonel Robert Johnson, who was said to have risked his life in 1820 to eat in public, on the courthouse steps, a tomato.
Yes, people were extremely wary of tomatoes at the time, and considered them poisonous. Earlier on in history people thought the tomato’s close cousin, the potato, also was to be avoided. Both were unfamiliar to Europeans, as plants of the Americas, and the potato’s berries were indeed filled with a toxin. (Compare a potato and a tomato plant some time. If the spud’s berries form, they will remind you of the tomato’s fruit.) But—-there apparently is no historical basis for the tomato-eating story. It does seem true, however, that the good Colonel brought tomatoes to Salem in 1820, planted them, and likely persuaded others to grow them. New Jersey did become tomato central over the years, with Campbell Soup’s Camden, New Jersey plant turning out tomato soup for decades.
A guy named George P. from Denver recalled: ”I worked at RCA in Camden, between 1975 and 1980, just before Campbell's moved their tomato soup operations to California. I still can smell the tomato soup being made in Camden. The smell was so sweet and delicious they could only have been Jersey tomatoes.” Back to Bassetts (somewhere along the line they dropped the apostrophe). According to the company timeline, Mr. Bassett did not begin marketing his ice cream to the wider world until 24 years later — had he retired from teaching — when he set up shop at 5th and Market Street in Philadelphia. Once the Reading Terminal Market began in 1892, the business was moved there, with Bassett apparently becoming the first merchant to sign a lease.
Vendors of fresh produce had long done business at informal markets in Philadelphia, beginning in at least 1680, and over the decades assorted markets had taken root. The Reading Terminal Market has its own food heritage tale to tell, as this booming hub of food slid into disrepair and disuse in the 1970s, and was rescued, repaired and revived through the hard work of many food fans and historic preservationists. ( As cities revive and reinvent themselves, as people decide they want to live and eat near where they work, and bike or walk to everything, old food markets become once again vital.)
Bassetts Ice Cream got a major boost when the founder’s grandson, Lewis Lafayette Bassett, Jr took over in 1925. The guy was into “exotic” flavors, and new technology. According to the company, in 1935 Bassett “ships 10 quarts of ice cream, packed in dry ice, via freighter from New York through the Panama Canal to the American Embassy in Tokyo. The voyage takes several weeks but the ice cream arrives in perfect condition.” In 1959, LLB Jr made up a large batch of borscht-flavored ice cream that was delivered to Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev, making his first visit to the US. Did he eat it? Like it? We do not know. Borscht-flavored ice cream is not on Bassetts ice cream menu today.
Bassetts is still in place at Reading Terminal. 'Jersey' Tomatoes still are synonymous with summer, and Rutgers University is working to keep Jersey varieties tasty.
For more food history and heritage, visit The Food Museum, and like us on Facebook.
Kale is one of the last plants to go in my fall garden. I am constantly looking for new ways to cook it before the season ends, and even use it from preserved from the freezer in the winter. Biscuits are a perfect way to use kale for breakfast or dinner, tucked into a savory biscuit with crispy bacon. Serve with delicious toppings like homemade mayonnaise, sliced ham, scrambled eggs and extra smoky tomato jam. These biscuits make a mean slider, loaded with more home-cured bacon, of course.
Savory Kale-Bacon Biscuits Recipe
2 cups wheat flour
2 cups kale leaves, stems removed, chifonaded
1/2 cup bacon, cooked and crumbed
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup yogurt
1/3 cup melted bacon drippings or olive oil
1 large egg
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced green onion
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper in a bowl. Separately, combine yogurt, kale, bacon drippings or olive oil, egg, garlic and green onion. Add wet ingredients to the dry, and gently stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few turns. Form dough into a ball, cut out biscuit rounds with a floured cutter, and transfer to a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the biscuits are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.
Fungophobe or fungophile? Fall is a mushroom hunter’s delight in the Pacific Northwest. If you are not a mushroom lover, then you better stay out of the woods. Are you a hopeless fungophile? Then you better stay out of my woods!
Mushroom season ignites all five of the senses: hearing, smell, sight, touch, and taste. You may be wondering, how do you hear a mushroom? The pitter-patter of autumn rain alerts a true fungophile that the dirt dwellers are awakening from dormancy. Bursting forth from the ground, each variety of mushrooms expels an identifiable scent, from peppery to deeply earthy to light and colorful. Just as intriguing are the rainbow of colors in the fall varieties: ruby red amanitas, orange flamed witch’s butter, sunshine yellow chanterelles, greenish tinged porcinis, blue-green anise mushrooms, purple blewits, and striking violet shrimp. Crayola could have a new marketing enterprise; the normal clientele base would not be happy.
Believe it or not, fungophobes, not all mushrooms are slimy. Witch’s butter, yes. Maybe the slimiest of them all, but then there is the delicately firm (I realize this is an oxymoron) chanterelle, spongy boletus, spiky hedgehogs, and inflated puffballs, to name a few.
Taste is the obvious, the reason we foragers tie the laces on our hiking shoes, gather our baskets, knives, and guidebooks, and walk in circles. Each variety delivers a striking blow to the palette. Richly diverse in flavor, and highly valuable in minerals, wild mushrooms take an ordinary meal to gastronomic fare.
Common Sense Mushroom Hunting
A sixth sense that I would like to add is common sense. Not all mushrooms are edible, and no wild mushroom can be eaten raw. Never eat anything you have not identified with one hundred percent confidence. Some varieties will put you on a gastrointestinal rollercoaster, while others are pure poison. If you have read my previous article, False Versus Edible Morels, then you are keenly aware that I am guilty of mis-identification. I am an adventurous person who takes calculated risks, and unverified wild mushroom sampling is not a gamble anyone should take. The adage speaks to be true: there are old mushroom hunters; there are bold mushroom hunters; however there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.
Several user-friendly mushroom guidebooks are on the market. Buy one specific to your region. For a pocket guide, I use All That the Rain Promises and More, by David Arora; a companion to the bigger volume Mushrooms Demystified. Even better than a guidebook, join a mycological society where regular outings and gatherings are part of the trade.
Check back soon for the next set of articles that will focus on particular species of wild edible mushrooms, including: key features for identification, locations, and tips for harvesting and preparation. A few highlights will include: chicken of the woods, chanterelle, and porcini, and perhaps more seasonal surprises, like my prince charming.
Sometimes food heritage sites gain new life, years after their original purpose has been superseded. Such is the case with a Chicago meat-packing facility built in the Union Stockyards in 1925.
The company began much earlier than that, right after the Civil War. It was established as a meat-cutting and curing firm by a German immigrant from Stuttgart named Christian Buehler in Peoria, Illinois. His sons went on to create a string of stores called Buehler Brothers Meat Markets in Chicago, in 1894. And then later the packing building, to serve the markets. The company name changed to Peer Food Products in 1944.
But then, in 2006, Peer sold, and a new firm stepped up to take possession of the old brick building in the Stockyards.
Bubbly Dynamics bought it in 2010, and resolved to keep as much of the 93,500 square foot old construction as was reasonable.
The company is retrofitting the place they call The Plant to create a “net-zero energy, food business incubator.”
“The Plant will hold indoor demonstration farms and educational facilities operated by Plant Chicago, NFP and will incubate sustainable food businesses by offering permanent tenant spaces at low rent and low energy costs.”
The intention is to do aquatonics at The Plant, or grow fish and veggies in water.
You can read more about this re-purposing project of a food heritage site here.
For more food history and food heritage info visit The Food Museum.
It’s that time of year again: The time when cooler days have me itching to bake bread once again, but when the zucchini is threatening to take over unless I harvest it. I have been frantically using zucchini in everything; zucchini pie, stuffed zucchini, zucchini pickles, even zucchini brownies. But still, the zucchini keeps coming. I have an especially prolific patch of yellow zucchini this year. Out of desperation, or perhaps fear of the zucchini rising up like zombies, I decided to combine zucchini with my love of bread.
Zucchini bread is usually a sweet bread, but I was looking for something to use with sandwiches. The first experiment resulted in a moist, savory Golden Semolina Zucchini Tomato Bread. The experiment must have worked, because most of the loaf disappeared in mere hours. That encouraged me to design this Zucchini Olive Yeast Bread.
For the tomato bread I used golden semolina flour to boost the protein level. But olives can stand up to something with more body, so I added a bit of white whole wheat flour. If you can’t find white whole wheat flour in your area, regular whole wheat flour would work well too.
If you have ever purchased a loaf of olive bread that was tasty, but so hard your jaw hurt from chewing, this is the recipe you have been looking for. The zucchini keeps the bread almost white-bread moist. Real Mediterranean flavor results from the added Feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and toasted pine nuts. We served slices dipped in olive oil. And better yet, the bread stayed fresh for 3 days. It may stay fresh even longer, but we ate it all in the first 3 days. I would like to say that we had company to help us devour it. We didn’t.
Since the bread is very soft, it needs the structure of a pan to keep it together. Using a smaller loaf pan will give you a very high loaf, like that in the photo. A larger loaf pan will yield a flatter loaf.
Zucchini Olive Yeast Bread Recipe
¾ cup lukewarm water
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp active dry yeast
3 - 3½ cups bread flour, separated
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2 cups grated (not pureed) zucchini
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup crumbled Feta cheese
½ cup chopped Kalamata olives
¼ cup pine nuts
In a large bowl, or the stand mixer bowl, combine the water, yeast, and honey. Stir and let stand 15 minutes or until the yeast is foamy. Add 1 cup of bread flour. Beat to combine. Cover and let sit for 2 hours. Meanwhile toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over medium heat until just browned (about 5 minutes). Set aside to cool. Add the remaining ingredients except the olives and pine nuts. Knead for about 4 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to keep dough held together. Add the olives and pine nuts and continue kneading for another minute or until they are well combined with the dough.
NOTE: This dough is very soft due to the zucchini moisture. You want the dough to hold together, but not to be too dry. Transfer to an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise for one hour or until doubled in size. Scrape dough out onto a floured board. Let rest for 10 minutes. Form dough into a loaf and place in a greased 8½ x 4½ inch pan or 9 x 5 inch pan. Cover and let rise ½ - 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Score the top of the loaf. Bake for 50 - 75 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 190 degrees. Remove from oven. Let cool for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and completely cool before slicing. This bread is delicious dipped in extra-virgin olive oil and served with a simple meal. It also turns everyday sandwiches into something special. Toasted slices make a nice bruschetta or crostini
Both of these experiments have worked out so well, I am planning to create something else. Maybe a zucchini herb yeast bread or a zucchini ricotta yeast bread. Or maybe both — the zucchini patch doesn't seem to be slowing down.