Welcome, ginkgo — and your stink-o | Pamela’s Food Service Diary – SILive.com

Quiet drama: A Ginkgo Biloba tree in Silver Lake Park at the beginning of October. Wait til you see what will happen next! (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Now that the world has reopened with festivals, parties and in-person meetings, things can seem overwhelming and downright unpredictable. But in all the hullaballoo take comfort in some business-as-usual with the gingko, a fairly common tree in our Borough of Parks.
My love for these trees came from observing it on walks through parks and woods during the thick of COVID. They are a sight — and serious smell — for all of the senses to soak up.
Ginkgo trees have a gnarly surface. The fruit that drops has a foul odor. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)
The gingko is a distinct and hardy creature, just from the looks of its craggy, twisty bark. And it appears ominous in the winter months because of that wrinkled look, which does make it stand out from its brethren.
In the spring and summer it comes to life with handsome fan-like leaves. And right about now, in October, those lush leaves curl a bit to put us in a curious state of suspense; they look like they’re holding on tight to the tree — or just the opposite — getting ready to pounce. Every day closer to November those leathery leaf edges bend back just a little farther and farther. Then, three things happen.
A gingko nut shucked clean on the pavement in Silver Lake Park (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)
First, there is a funk.
Very soon, the Gingko Biloba will deliver a stench like no other tree or living thing in the Big Apple. It will come from the berry-like fruits that drop over a few weeks — green orbs that will become an eery greenish-yellow, like golden cherries. Then, when feet or dogs or baby stroller wheels mash them, the gingko will unleash its perfume — an indescribable a-stink-o.
Gingko smashed on the ground emit a funk like no other living thing in NYC. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri) Staff-Shot
The second predictable gingko event is that the leaves turn yellow — very much so. And it’s such an intense hue that only Mother Nature can deliver — radiant in the sun and so beautiful — yet tricky because something so stunning should at least reward us with a smell that equals such a charming appearance.
The fan-shaped leaves of the Gingko tree remain bright yellow through October. Pretty! (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)
Finally, the leaves will drop — boom — pretty much all in one day. At the first frost, usually in the first week in November in New York City, the tree dumps its thousands of yellow fans to the ground. That’s another pretty event, if not slip-sliding over it when wet.
The gingko fruit, as it lands on the ground, in Silver Lake Park. This happens in late October and early November. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri) Staff-Shot
Chefs like Chef Mario DiBiase remind us that gingko is a food source, if not for the birds than for health-consious humans. He makes a tea from it, a similar treatment he give to acorns.
The gingko must be cleaned of its toxic flesh — the Korean and Chinese women who harvest them in the parks do this on the spot with a double pair of kitchen gloves. The berries should be boiled a few times. The convex pit inside then can be roasted in a pan over high heat or cooked in the oven, a heating process which turns the nut a neon green. At that point, the nut can be cracked with the teeth like a pistachio or opened with a nutcracker for the stuff inside, believed to be good for memory.
I’m a little leery of ingesting the gingko, frankly. Although I admire them for their steadfast contributions to the fall foliage and their loyal presence in our parks. They present a quiet, predictable kind of drama that is most welcome these days on the food beat.
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].
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