Exploring Edible Plant Life

Garden researcher Andrew Townesmith with his edible plant life booksNew insights and discoveries about the role of plants as food are being made every day, close to home and around the world. For the last 10 years, Andrew Townesmith, research specialist at the Garden's William L. Brown Center, has been exploring the vast field of edible plant life with his taste buds, sampling more than 450 different edible plants to date.

Join us on a culinary adventure throughout our yearlong Foodology celebration as Andrew shares findings, recommendations and recipes from his many taste tests.


Persimmon Pancakes

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Wild persimmons in Missouri are produced by the American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). The Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is the persimmon found in supermarkets. I find the American persimmon to have a more complex and interesting flavor than the Asian persimmon.

Wild persimmons occur in a variety of habitats across the eastern United States, mostly in sunny or partially shaded areas. The large numbers of orange fruits makes the trees fairly easy to spot. Unripe fruits are very astringent and unpalatable. Some people believe that frost is required to destroy the astringency. While there is some variation in the timing of ripening, persimmons often become fully ripe well before the first frost. By mid-September, persimmons are ripe in much of Missouri. As they ripen, they become very soft; unripe, astringent persimmons can be avoided by selecting only the softest fruits. Fruits continue to ripen for up to a month, and may be present on the trees after the leaves have fallen.

Several large seeds form much of the bulk of each fruit. Persimmons are very good when eaten directly, simply spitting out the seeds. Separating the pulp from the seeds can be somewhat messy and time-consuming. However, if you make the effort to separate the pulp, persimmons are quite good when cooked as well. Last year while camping in the late fall, I found several persimmon trees bearing fruit and decided to make persimmon pancakes.

Persimmon Pancakes
½  cup persimmon pulp
1 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 large egg
1 to 1.5 cups milk
2 tbsp melted butter

Separate the persimmon pulp from the seeds. The fruit can be squeezed and the seeds can be picked out.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg, 1 cup of milk, and the butter.

Mix the dry ingredients into the the egg mixture and add the persimmon pulp.  If the batter seems thick, add more milk until it is runny. 

Heat a large oiled skillet. For each pancake, pour ¼ cup of batter onto the skillet. When the upper surface starts to bubble, flip the pancake. Serve pancakes with butter or maple syrup.

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Food Plants of the World

Food Plants of the World book coverDiscover some new edible plants to try out in your kitchen. Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide, one of the references Andrew uses, is available in the Garden Gate Shop.