on gingko

we went back for a visit to elk rock, a well hidden garden, set steep on a bluff above the willamette river on the outskirts of portland. this was a once private estate, originally owned by the kerr family, but donated to the local episcopal bishop of oregon on the condition that it be open to the public. this english-style garden was designed by the new york firm 'olmstead and son', who designed central park in new york city, and has been splendidly cared for by ‘the friends of elk rock’ in the care of a lone gardener who maintains (no small feat) these grounds of spectacular trees, and rare junipers, magnolias, madrone and amongst these, the reason for our return visit: a single, tall, mature female gingko tree, baring its fruit this time of year. i should say shedding its seed, the slimy, dreadfully stinky, unbelievably putrid fruit, containing within a hard-shelled nut. and inside the nut a kernel, so delicious, that it is often compared in flavor and texture to a chestnut or a pistachio. it has been collected and consumed for some time, ever since the beginning, i mean the very start of peking man, but the tree itself has been around for some two million years, dinosaur time. the gingko biloba has a fossil record recognizable and dating back 270 million years. traces of the tree are lost most everywhere except it is known to have survived and is grown in at least two small areas in zhejiang province in eastern china. even this is not ironclad, but it is assumed that chinese monks tended gingkos there as long as a thousand years ago. trees were thought sacred and often planted near temples and monasteries. whether monks used the tree seed as food or in other ways, gingko nuts were often imagined as a powerful aphrodisiac. it struck me as funny that the gingko we sought grew close to a residence of the episcopal bishop of oregon.

equipped with zip-locks and blue latex gloves we gathered a large bag of fallen seed to be washed of their mal-scented surroundings at home. once cleaned, cracked and roasted in salt they became a delicious if labor intensive delight, as snack or in a salad, or as crunchy counterpoint to mashed celeriac root.