If you’ve ever smelled a Ginkgo tree, or chitlins, my guess is you could all give me the same one word description without thinking too hard. Poo. Both have stenches so offensive you could also tell me where you were, who you were with, and how old you were even if it was before being able to speak in complete sentences. I really wish the iPhone 10 had a Scratch and Sniff feature so I could share with you. For some reason, our ancestors thought it was a good idea to eat stuff that smelled like poo, because both are eaten with gusto. By some anyway.
Chitlins, the intestines of the pig, are routinely eaten in my neck of the woods, Alabama. A whiff of raw Chitlins is bad enough. Cooking them releases an odor that’s an olfactory slap across the face every time you breathe. The bible says that Hell smells like burning sulfur (my translation for brimstone), but I suspect Satan’s minions are scorching a few pounds of chitlins for ambiance.
I’ve only seen chitlins cooked outside in the vats that witches use for stewing frogs. Chitlins are cooked in the back yard because doing so inside would render the house inhabitable for the next six months while the odor cleared. Cooking them outside requires a warning to all the neighbors that chitlins are on the menu so they have time to close all vents, windows, and doors leading in to their houses. It’s like readying the house for a hurricane. Served on top of grits and doused in Tabasco sauce, my family guzzles them down like raw oysters. I have eaten them once; my first and last time. The only time I’ve ever seen the TSA staff run is the time they asked my mother to open a plastic container of chitlins she was bringing on the airplane to my aunt. She opened the container, TSA security dogs started howling en masse, and everyone in line bolted for the nearest exit.
The first time I encountered a Ginkgo tree was at the University of Alabama’s Biology building. Situated right outside the door beside the big auditorium was a giant, old Ginkgo. During the late fall, the tree would drop berries, which housed a nut. We’d all crush the yellow, fleshy stink bombs when we walked in to the building. We then dragged those bits and pieces in to the auditorium on our shoes. Every year, when the biology building smelled like a dairy farm, the tree would be threatened with removal. Inevitably, the Botany department would intervene and the tree would be safe until the following fall. I can guarantee that none of us, including professors, said,
“I think we should we roast these!”
What I didn’t know then is that the nut covered inside that noxious pulpy berry, is drop dead delicious. One of my most favorite dishes in Japan is Ginkgo nut tempura. Served on a toothpick like olives in a martini, they have the taste of a nut but a consistency somewhere between gum and a banana. Don’t interfere with the Japanese ladies when the nuts are falling. They’ll stampede you flat with a smile and a polite half bow.
I saw this, which made me nostalgic for Japan, and was the inspiration for this post.
The stuffed bear on the front of the truck is something I’m used to seeing in Japan. But I would never see these crushed Ginkgo nuts on a sidewalk. In Tokyo, they don’t have a chance to hit the ground. The tallest obasan (older woman, grandmother, auntie) under the tree catches them over the heads of the others.
My current street is lined with Ginkgo trees- which may have been one of the things that attracted me to this neighborhood when we moved last year from California. I told my neighbor I was going to get an old pair of shoes, rubber gloves, and plastic bags to collect the nuts, then I was going to roast them. He pulled a Sam I am and threatened not to eat them here or there, or anywhere.
Luckily for him, and the rest of the city, I won’t be cooking chitlins in the back.
So, who among you has eaten something that out smells these two candidates? I can think of two others….
Tokyo Gingko Trees