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We head to the forest for Indiana delights this fall

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[Earth Eats theme music] 

KAYTE YOUNG:  From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young. This is Earth Eats.

ROSS GAY:  To know there's an invisible line between the index finger and that barely discernible trio of fruits, way up in the canopy.

KAYTE YOUNG:  We're honoring the fruits of the Indiana forest today with a pawpaw piece from poet Ross Gay, and a local news feature from Bente Bouthier on harvesting wild ginseng.  Plus, some favorite stories and recipes about persimmons. And...

FREDDIE BITSOIE:  Food is actually, I think, the main conduit of storytelling, especially Indigenous food.

KAYTE YOUNG:  We also hear from chef Freddie Bitsoie about creating pathways for Native cuisines.  All that and more coming up on Earth Eats. 

Thanks for tuning into Earth Eats today, I'm Kayte Young.  We'll start with some Harvest Public Media reports from Renee Reed, Hello, Renee.

RENEE REED:  Hello Kayte.   The ivory billed woodpecker which used to fly through the Mississippi River basin is officially deemed extinct. Harvest Public Media's Dana Cronin reports.

DANA CRONIN:  You used to be able to hear the call of the ivory billed woodpecker throughout old growth forests from the southeast all the way up to Illinois, Oklahoma and Missouri, but largely due to logging, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is removing the bird from the endangered species list, declaring it extinct.  The last verified sighting of the ivory billed woodpecker was in 1944. Jeff Hoover is an avian ecologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey.

JEFF HOOVER:  When you lose what might be called an umbrella species, if that thing goes away, then there's a lot of other things that were under that umbrella that are also now going to potentially be in peril.

DANA CRONIN:  He says all kinds of animals from river otters to swamp rabbits also rely on bottomland forest habitat.  I'm Dana Cronin, Harvest Public Media.

RENEE REED: Among the 23 species announced extinct recently by the US Fish and Wildlife Service was a freshwater mussel that once lined the banks of Midwestern waterways. The tubercled blossom pearly mussel lived throughout the Ohio River basin, including in Illinois and Indiana. But it hasn't been spotted in the region alive in at least 100 years, largely due to damming and water pollution, including from agricultural runoff. Alison Stodola studies mollusks at the Illinois Natural History Survey.  She says mussels are filter feeders, meaning they help filter contaminants from rivers.

ALISON STODOLA:  The loss of freshwater mussels is kind of one of these warning signs you know that our rivers are not healthy.

RENEE REED:  They're one of the most endangered groups of organisms in the US.  Thanks to Harvest Public Media, Dana Cronin for those reports for Earth Eats,  I'm Renee Reed.

[Earth Eats news theme music] 

KAYTE YOUNG:  Indiana is in the height of its ginseng harvest season.  Officials at the Department of Natural Resources say the season runs from September to December.  From the WFIU Newsroom. Bente Bouthier reports that with the challenges of COVID-19 and aging harvesters, some ginseng dealers see harvesting Indiana ginseng as a dying art.

BENTE BOUTHIER:  Michael Bartlett hikes through a dark, forested area searching for ginseng.  A root that grows natively in Indiana and 18 other states.  It's believed to have medical benefits that make it valuable, especially in Southeast Asian markets.  Bartlett began hunting for ginseng in southern Indiana when he was 12 years old.

MICHAEL BARTLETT:  It was a way to make an income as a kid.  I've bought a lot of stuff through the years just digging ginseng.

BENTE BOUTHIER:  Today he works with Brent Duncan at Duncan Botanical products to buy ginseng from harvesters.  He and Duncan also cultivate their own small crop.

MICHAEL BARTLETT:  This is a three prong plant right here.  They have to be at least three prong and bearing seed to build a dig.  This plant has probably already shed its seed for the year.

BENTE BOUTHIER:  He digs into the dirt and emphasizes it's important to treat the plants delicately.

MICHAEL BARTLETT:  You always clear your spot out around the plant.  That way you can see which way this stem is running.

BENTE BOUTHIER:  Bartlett joined Duncan's business in 2005. They buy different types of herbs native to Indiana, but American ginseng is one of their most valuable. Duncan says fewer people have come by in recent years to sell ginseng, and younger harvesters don't have the same knowledge as older generations.

BRENT DUNCAN:  It's it's disappointing to see the decline of it.  The loss of harvesters, the people I've seen over the years that are just too old to go do it anymore.

BENTE BOUTHIER:   The market also got off to a bumpy start last year because of COVID-19. 

BRENT DUNCAN:  COVID hit and it hurt all facets of the herbal industry, not just ginseng.  A lot of people just didn't want to get out in public, and we're still reeling from that a little bit.

BENTE BOUTHIER:  The DNR says last year the price started at $350.00 a pound and ended at 600 and that harvest for the state weighed in at 2500 pounds. About 1100 pounds less than two years ago.  Laura Minzes is the DNR ginseng coordinator.  She's not worried that the crop is going extinct here. Minze says that Indiana's crop isn't as big as some Appalachian states, but is a good quality and consistent.  She adds that the harvest and market were unsteady last year, but the demand is still there.  Most of the harvest here goes to China.

LAURA MINZES:  I would say almost all of it, because most of our gingseng is wild and that is a property that they look for.

BENTE BOUTHIER:  Duncan says all the ginseng from his company is sold to Southeast Asia.He doesn't expect to buy as much ginseng from harvesters as in the past but expects the market to be closer to normal next year.  He says a pound of wild ginseng is going now for $550 and the DNR has harvesting rules to keep it from going extinct. That's why Duncan and Bartlett believe the crop is here to stay. The problem may be fewer harvesters.

MICHAEL BARTLETT:  And then we have some elderly people too that we learned when they came in this year, this is our last year going.

BENTE BOUTHIER:  Bartlett says dealers like him and Duncan are left with the task of teaching new harvesters how to follow DNR rules and the tricks for finding ginseng.

BRENT DUNCAN:  Really, no one knows anything about what the laws are on it, so when they come in, we have to teach them, you know, no, you can't dig on state property.  You can't dig on forestry property, federal property so and then you have to teach them how to properly dig it without cutting it.  How to plant the seed back?

BENTE BOUTHIER:  Bartlett says a big part of the excitement in harvesting is not knowing what you'll find underneath the ground.

MICHAEL BARTLETT:  Looks like this plant is going to be a bigger one. And that's what gets you excited.

BENTE BOUTHIER:  Bartlett and Duncan say anyone Interested in harvesting should find dark woods where they have written permission to forage. For WFIU news, I'm Bente Bouthier.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That story comes to us from reporter Bente Bouthier of the WFIU newsroom. Find more local and regional news at 


Though Native American food is the oldest cuisine on the continent, it's only started showing up in glossy food magazines and the high end restaurant scene in recent years. Chefs like Sean Sherman of the Souix Chef approach Native cuisine through foraging traditional ingredients and bringing back the foods his Oglala Lakota ancestors may have eaten.  Chef Ben Jacobs is a tribal member of the Osage Nation and the co-founder of Decabe.  Their place is fast, casual, Native American food with two locations in Denver. There is not one native cuisine as the executive chef at the cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC.  My guest Freddie Bitsoie gets that.

FREDDIE BITSOIE:  Fundamentally, what my driving force in my career is all about is to make a pathway for native cuisine.

KAYTE YOUNG:  The museum cafe is called Mitsitam,, which means 'let's eat' in the Native language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples.  The menu is crafted to enhance the museum experience by exposing guests to some of the Indigenous cuisines of the Americas and to offer a chance to explore the history of Native foods. But there are so many traditions.

FREDDIE BITSOIE:  Being the chef at a museum for the Native American cultures throughout the Western Hemisphere, it kind of puts a lot on as far as the explanation, the execution, and the presentation of the foods, because there is that responsibility of trying to present things that are indigenous to different regions of the country and still having to have a solid story and knowledge of where these dishes come from.

KAYTE YOUNG:  If you are not Native American but have attended a pow wow, you might be thinking about fry bread. It's a tasty deep fried dough made with white flour, often served topped with stewed meats or beans, though it holds a solid place in many Native food traditions today, fry bread has its origins in the mid 1800s when Native peoples were forced to rely on government rations of white wheat flour, salt and water.  Fry bread is not a traditional food of the people native to North America.  It's more of a culinary adaptive response to oppression.  But that doesn't mean it doesn't have a place in contemporary Native cuisine.  Chef Freddie Bitsoie didn't prepare fry bread during his recent visit to Indiana University.  But he doesn't shy away from it either.  He says he'll address the topic in his forthcoming book.  I asked him if he noticed a lot of fusions happening in Native cuisines.

FREDDIE BITSOIE:  Oh yeah, for sure, so when we look at how the food is made, there has to be a way where, like for example French cooking 'cause I went to culinary school and I was formally trained as a French chef.  So sometimes what I do when I cook Native food is I cook it with the French technique, so inadvertently that's a fusion in itself.  There are some chefs out there who are creating Native dishes and Native sauces based on French ideas and there's nothing wrong with that.  It's just a matter of how you name it, label it and say where it comes from.

KAYTE YOUNG: Chef Bitsoie  prepared a few recipes for the small crowd gathered in the basement cafe of the Wells Library on the IU campus.  He made calabacitas, a dish from Santa Fe featuring squash, corn and peppers.  He prepared a salad made from swamp cabbage otherwise known as Hearts of Palm. Swamp cabbage can still be forged in the wild in parts of Florida and is an historical ingredient in Seminole, Miccosukee and Colusa tribal diets.  Chef Bitsoie also made a dish featuring roasted pork tenderloin served over a savory bean dish.

FREDDIE BITSOIE: So this is a three bean ragout and I know ragout is not a Native term.  But we in the culinary world have our own little secret code words.  So saying ragout means stewed.  Stewed beans is something that is pretty much throughout the Native world.  People will always have a different variation of it and get some onions, some celery and some carrots.  Now if you were a French cook, you would call this Mirepoix.  OK, so when you're making this particular dish, you don't want a lot of caramelization happening, OK?  OK, so we're adding the beans.  Now you don't want to mix too much because your beans are already cooked right. These are white beans, kidney beans, and black beans.  You can use Pintos if you'd like, but don't mix too much because it's going to, it's just going to get really mushy. And then I'll start the pork dish.  All right, so we have some cayenne pepper, some new Mexican chili powder, some cumin, brown sugar, some dried mustard and dried sage.  So all these flavors kind of blend together and form a nice rub, so you're just going to rub it in.  You don't put it, I don't put any oil on here because I use the oil in the pan to sear.  All right, I apologize if your eyes get watery or you start coughing.  Just get all four sides going and then you put that in a preheated oven at 350, about 20 minutes, 20-25 minutes.

[kitchen sounds]

So your stew should be stewing up by now, so this looks really nice.  And as you can tell, or probably see, I rarely make sauce a priority for for a lot of the foods that I do, because I think it's important to understand that there are some sauces involved with some Native foods, but we have to, I have to grow that distinction between what French food is and what Native food is.  With Native foods it's a little different kind of perspective and little frame of mind.  So I try to purposely do without the sauce just to prove a point to people, and I get to tell you. my French chef friends will say, 'well, there's no sauce,'

KAYTE YOUNG: Nobody in the room that day missed the sauce.  Samples of all the dishes were passed around for everyone to taste.  After the cooking demonstration, I asked him about the role of food.

FREDDIE BITSOIE:  Food does everything.  Food can comfort, food can bring people together.  Food can even bring family together and most families don't like spending time together.  And if food can do that, trust me, it can do a lot, but in all seriousness, food is actually, I think, the main conduit of storytelling, especially Indigenous food.  And I'm not referring to Indigenous culture, I'm talking about the foods that are indigenous to certain areas of the world.  Not just the US alone, but throughout the world, because that's where that particular ingredient is from. That ingredient will always tell the story, and as long as that story is there, it becomes a part of people's culture. Food really has this power.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Chef Freddie Bitsoie was a guest of the IU Bloomington Arts and Humanities Council as part of Indiana Remixed. We have his bean ragout recipe on our website,  That story first aired in February of 2020.  Stay tuned for more recipes later in the show featuring our favorite Indiana fruits.  Earth Eats returns after a short break.


In the almost 15 years that I've lived in Indiana, the native fall fruits, persimmon and pawpaw continue to surprise and delight me year after year. You'd think I'd get sick of them and maybe I did overdo it on the pawpaws that first year.  But perhaps because their season is so fleeting, and because you never see these fragile autumnal fruits on a grocery store shelf.  They have an almost magical air about them.  One of my favorite Persimmon stories is one from back in 2016. Produced by Annie Corrigan  She's the founder and former host of Earth eats.  Let's give a listen.


ANNIE CORRIGAN:  Every year it seems to me like persimmons start to fall earlier and earlier.  You notice that? They've been plummeting from Louise Briggs' backyard tree for over a week already. She's constructed an elaborate net to catch the little orange globes before they hit the ground.

LOUISE BRIGGS:  It doesn't, it's silent once it hits the net.  The adorable sound is at hitting leaves as it goes down. Yeah yeah, yeah, like a like. What is that?  Pinball machine my Persimmon pinball machine.

ANNIE CORRIGAN:  I met Louise last year and we talked about the agony and the ecstasy of sharing her backyard with a 60 foot Persimmon tree.  Louise and her husband Bob moved to southern Indiana in the winter of 2010. They were hunting for a house to buy.

LOUSE BRIGGS:  And the realtor said to me, oh, and there's a Persimmon tree in the backyard too.  I'm from Boston.  What do I know from persimmons you know?  So we just went about our business, went through the winter and when it came towards spring I decided I should start looking up persimmons, you know and see what kind of tree this was and so the distinctive thing about persimmon trees that the bark is shaped like tiles it said, you know. So the striations go up and down, but they also go sideways kind of splitting it into little pieces.  Springtime, I was out, you know, cleaning up the yard and stuff I said well, let me just look around and see which of these trees is the Persimmon tree. 'cause there were lots of trees in the yard, so I went from tree to tree. No, not that one. No, not that one. No, not that one. And I looked at the big one right in the middle of the yard. And I thought, surely not that one.  So I walked over to the tree and looked at the bark and it was totally perfect it was picture perfect. Looked just like the pictures in the book. 

ANNIE CORRIGAN:  The previous owners had just let the fruit fall and rot on the ground, killing all the grass around the tree.  When the persimmons started falling in late summer, Louise and Bob quickly realized that that wasn't a good option for them.

LOUISE BRIGGS:  We knew we had to net them because over the course of a few weeks my little dog became a pudgy little dog and I kept cutting back on his food thinking I'm feeding him too much.  And then we realized we looked out in the back and when we put him out he'd be out there eating persimmons, which are high calorie and he was having a good time.

ANNIE CORRIGAN:  She spent a couple of hours every day collecting persimmons from the net in 10 gallon bins. She removed the caps and cleaned off the leaves.  It was a chore.  Every couple of weeks.  She would throw a perpetual persimmon pulping party where friends would help her process the fruit into two cup bags. That years haul, by the numbers, almost forty 10 gallon bins of fruit harvested, processed into one hundred eight 2 cup portions.  Last year Louise put the call out to locals 'free persimmons to anyone willing to put the work in.'  About a dozen community members met at her house for that first persimmon party.  Louise gave a tutorial on using the net pushed the persimmons from the various parts of the net to the center, then pulled down two of the Poles to reveal a hole in the net.

PERSON 1:  Alright, OK sounds great.  Right?

LOUISE BRIGGS:  So just go under.  Flip it on over. When we get to the edge.   It smells so good. Hear that.  There they go.

PERSON 2:  It's almost pudding.

LOUISE BRIGGS:  And then you get the next bunch.

ANNIE CORRIGAN:  These persimmons are perfect, squishy and a dark orange.  In the kitchen we take turns pulling off the caps and rinsing the fruit.

PERSON 3:  It's very, very sweet and delicious, and the dark ones are caramelized and perfect.  These are awesome.

ANNIE CORRIGAN:  Once they're cleaned, it's over to Louise's motorized food mill.

LOUISE BRIGGS:  So this is your high tech lesson.

ANNIE CORRIGAN:  The ooze comes out one side, the seeds and the skins splurt out the other.

LOUISE BRIGGS:  I know it's fabulous, doesn't it?

ANNIE CORRIGAN:  That day everyone left with some pulp for making pudding bread and donut glaze.  There's plenty more where this came from Louise says every day for the next several weeks, someone from the community will come and take her persimmons away.  And Louise couldn't be happier.  I couldn't help but ask, Do you regret buying this house? With this tree and the responsibility that comes with it?

LOUISE BRIGGS:  I won't say that I haven't had moments.  But no, I would miss it.  I would really miss it.

ANNIE CORRIGAN And then swish, swish, swish goes another persimmon pinball plummeting from the tree down to the net.


KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Annie Corrigan, founder and former host of the show that you're listening to right now. Earth eats. That story was from 2016 and fun fact, I was one of the community members that ended up harvesting persimmons from Louise Briggs' tree that year.  The persimmons are falling right now here in South Central, IN and as far as I can tell they are plentiful this year.  If you aren't really into gathering them for yourself, you can find persimmon pulp for sale locally already prepared, which makes cooking with them very easy. We typically think of desserts when it comes to persimmons. But today Jackie B Howard is taking them in a savory direction.  We've had Jackie on our show a few  times sharing fantastic original recipes--even if her approach to cooking is not exactly recipe centered, but we'll get to that later. Let's start in on those persimmons.

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  I'm going to do different things with it today, so I'm going to use it in a sweet way and a savory way.  I'm going to do a lamb Persimmon Curry.  We are doing a beet salad, beet and kale salad with Persimmon vinaigrette and someone had pureed pawpaw and I was pumped. And so I got some pawpaw, so we're going to do two different types of chia pudding, each of them with a different kind of tea, and then the two different native Indiana fruits. We're going to start with the curry.  I have my cast iron pan, you know, the porcelain enameled cast iron pot. You could do it in a skillet you could do it in a regular sort of pot. So I'm going to let that pan get hot.  I want to get my pot as hot as possible before I start putting things into it, so I'm putting that on the burner and while that happens I've got ground natural ground lamb.  I'm going to put a little just a tiny bit of olive oil in my pan.  Lamb is not as fatty as beef would be.  So about a teaspoon and a half of salt.  About 1/2 a teaspoon of black pepper.  I'm in no way a expert on curry and this is in no way a traditional curry. This is what I have on hand, is what works for me. It's I'm just going to taste it and make it what I want it to be. What I want it to be and use using what I have.  So one of my favorite things in a curry in general but also with lamb is big bold spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.  So I'm going to throw those in on the lamb itself.  We'll say about a quarter of a teaspoon of clove. Quarter a teaspoon of cinnamon.  And two pinches of nutmeg.  I'm going to let this sit and not touch it.  And while that happens, I'm going to chop up some veggies. One of my favorite things when I make curry at home, most of my meals are at least half veggies and when I make a curry or a stir fry or just about anything honestly I just throw in as many veggies as I have and what sounds good.  One thing that I do at the grocery store when I can catch a veggie tray on sale, I will get a veggie tray and break it down and use those veggies, that gives me a variety of vegetables at one time.  I don't have to buy a lot of all these different kinds of vegetables to make sure I still have the variety that I want.

[sounds of cooking]

So I had a veggie tray that had carrots and celery and broccoli and then I also had some onions and peppers and squash. About a cup and a half of each. You can use any veggies that you like.  So my lamb is looking good. So I've added the onions.  I'm going to add the peppers and the carrots.  I'm going to hold off just a little bit on the broccoli and the squash because they're a softer veggie. Now that I've added the vegetables I need to, they need to be seasoned as well, so I'm going to add 2 teaspoons of salt. About a teaspoon of black pepper.  I'm gonna go ahead and start building some of my curry flavors in. Like I said, I'm in no way an expert on curry's, Indian food, Thai food.  But I have those flavors. I enjoy those flavors and I can put them together in a way that I enjoy. So I do garlic and ginger purees.  2 tablespoons of garlic paste and a tablespoon of ginger paste.  I'm using a curry spice blend.  I'm going to add other flavors to it still, but it gives a little bit of a base to build off of.

I'm going to do a tablespoon of my curry blend.

KAYTE YOUNG:  She's breaking out the measuring spoons.

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  That never happens.  One tablespoon of the curry blend, a teaspoon of yellow curry powder.  My veggies are starting to break down in here. It's smelling really good, aromatic.  I'm going to taste my base here so I know what it tastes like when I add the persimmon and coconut milk that's going to go into this, and so I'll know where I want, what I want to shift on top of that, once those are in. So it tastes really good.  The curry flavor is really nice in it. It's good and bold.  I want a little more cinnamon and it needs a little bit more salt the you know the thing about salt is it brings out other flavors.  That's the purpose of it.  And so every component of your dish needs to be salted because you want it to soak in that flavor and salt and make it pop out, so it's just a pinch of salt. I am going to do a quart of persimmon in this.  The Persimmon is essentially the base of my sauce in all of my cooking career, it's been really important to me.   I love sweet and savory together.  I love sweet and spicy together because it's complex and interesting and it challenges your palate a little bit and moves outside moves you outside your comfort zone.  So it's one of my favorite, favorite ways to cook and persimmon is sweeter than pumpkin.  It's sweeter than sweet potato, but it has a lot of the same sort of flavor profiles, so there's it has a lot of flexibility and versatility to be used in other ways.  We just don't think to do that.

So I'm doing one can of coconut milk. Starting to look like a curry in terms of the sauciness, it's actually got a really great consistency to it right now.  It's really important when you're cooking without a recipe to taste repeatedly, but it's important to keep tasting throughout so that you know where your flavors are at and where they're going and what you need from them.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I am, I'm smelling the fruitiness of the persimmon.  That's what's different from it being a squash or a sweet potato or something.

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  Yes, yes it has that sweet fruitiness to it.  I've added the rest of the quart of persimmon and I know that it needs more salt.  We're going to start with another half teaspoon of salt I am adding another teaspoon of the curry powder.   I'm also going to go ahead and add in the rest of my veggies, so I've got the cup and a half of broccoli and yellow squash, so I'm going to let this sit for a little bit.  I'm going to taste it just to make sure that I won't season again until after it does cook down a little bit.  Do you wanna taste it?

KAYTE:  Yes, I put down my microphone and gave it a taste.

I cannot believe the flavors of that sauce that Persimmon is really remarkable in a savory dish like this, and like you said, it's a warm sweet savory.  But it's savory and it's really, really nice.

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  I am so glad you like it.  I would I still bump up the curry in this and I would want some heat to it and I will probably do that with sirracha, but you could do it with a Thai chili or another sort of chili paste would work as well. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  So I'm thinking if you wanted to make this vegetarian, of course you would be lacking some of the depth of flavor that the lamb is adding and the fat and all that. But I could really picture this with chickpeas.

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  Oh, absolutely yes.  Yeah, it would be great with chickpeas.  You know you do miss some depth with the 'cause you can taste the lamb in this, like the lamb comes out in that persimmon and it's such a great combo, but you can make up that flavor with other seasonings.  I would definitely increase the garlic in it.  And I would maybe consider some other sort of warm, maybe like a thyme or something like that to add that, like it's a flavor that you associate with meat to then have that added depth to it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And maybe some coconut oil or something at the base.

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  Right, right.  Yes. Yeah to add the extra fattiness that we're going to let this sit and stew just a little bit. Let the flavors meld together and then it'll be done.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And Jackie has two more persimmon ideas for us so stay tuned.


I'm Kayte Young. This is Earth Eats and we're back in the kitchen with Jackie B.  You might have heard Jackie say that she doesn't cook from recipes, doesn't typically use a measuring spoon.  There's a lot of tasting along the way.  Well, there's a reason for that.

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  I don't cook with recipes, mostly because when I was a kid I was really into food and I did, you know, I did learn recipes.  That's how I started cooking, but my mom worked 2nd shift and my dad, he cooked but he cooked like canned carrots and fried baloney, which has a has a place in my heart and I appreciate those things and and his effort. But as a kid he didn't, he didn't really cook and so I had, I had to learn to cook early and had to learn to cook with whatever is there so there weren't really, I couldn't get a recipe and make that for dinner because that's not, I'm not doing the grocery shopping I've, you know, I can't what we we didn't have tons of money, so we can't be requesting lots of sort of odd things to be having to make some very specific recipe.  It's what you have and what you, it's what you it's that's what you use and so that's how I really learned to cook like what is in I taught myself. So what do I have? What can I do to make this taste better?  And it's just that that's just ingrained in me as I move forward and so I don't, I don't use recipes I don't. I don't make recipes, not write recipes.  It can get really frustrating for other people 'cause my recipes are just a list of ingredients. Here are the things that I put into it. Or here are the things that I have and I'll make it. Oh dish, but learning to cook that way means that I am so versatile and flexible that I can put something together at any time and learning to break down the flavors of food and how to put flavors together is the key to that.  So knowing your salt, acid, heat, all of those things and that if you so, when I taste something, if you need more flavor at the beginning of it, you need to add salt.If you need more flavor in the middle, then you need to add acid.  If you need more flavor at the end then you need more depth.  You need more garlic, you need more heat. You need something more to like fill it up for you and understanding that then means you can cook anything--anything, and it doesn't have to be perfect.  It's not traditional, it's not what someone it may, it's not going to taste the same as if you pulled up this recipe out of a magazine or a book and did exactly these step by steps and that has its place.  So I appreciate a recipe, but I, I don't know, it just takes me back to being a kid and, and deciding that adding, taking this box of macaroni, you know, Kraft macaroni and cheese taking this box of macaroni and adding pepper and garlic and ham and peas and all these other things now I have like a more full complete meal that is mine.  I made it and it tastes really good together.  It's a silly thing, but that's how it just informs and all the cooking that I do.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And now let's get back to that cooking. Jackie has two more recipes using Persimmon. The first one is a simple salad dressing.

JACKIE B. HOWARD: So now we're going to make a Persimmon vinaigrette for my meal prep salads this week.  I'm going to do a kale salad with beets and goat cheese and pecans and then use the persimmon vinaigrette. For that salad, I'm going to make enough so that I will have dressing for salads all week.  So I'm going to chop up this rosemary.  I'm going to put it all in the blender to make my vinaigrette so I don't need to worry about getting the rosemary terribly fine, but it is going to be better for it to get chopped up. And then I've got, I'm going to take just a tablespoon of diced red onions.  The Red Onion is going to go really well with my beets. I want the I want the flavor of the dressing to be bold because the components of my salad are bold flavored, boldly flavored as well. I'm going to put these into the blender.  2 cups of persimmon and again, that's already pulped and ready for me to go.

I'm going to do about a half a teaspoon of salt the juice from about half an orange, 1 1/2 cups of water, 2 to 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons of oil, a quarter of a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a quarter of a teaspoon of garlic puree.  I'm going to go ahead and blend this now.

[blender sounds]

KAYTE YOUNG:  Jackie gave it a taste and decided she wasn't getting enough of the persimmon flavor.  She added an extra dash of cinnamon and another splash of apple cider vinegar.  Then we gave it a taste.

It really has the--it's Persimmon.

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  Mm hmm. Yeah.

KAYTE YOUNG:  A little more tweaking and Jackie had the flavor she was looking for, and even though Jackie doesn't typically work from recipes herself, she was kind enough to write down the details of what she ended up with for this salad dressing.  You'll find that at Eartheats.Dot org.  Now it's time to assemble the salads.

JACKIE B. HOWARD: So I'm going to start with kale.  Got fresh kale and what I'm going to do is separate it out into my individual salads, but I'm going to massage it.  It's an odd concept to think about massaging your veggies, but it breaks down the toughness that kale can have when it's raw.So I'm going to massage it with olive oil.  A little bit of lemon juice and a little bit of salt mix all that together and then let it sit and it's going to break that down but not break it down so like it was cooked. Massaging it brightens it up.  It softens it and just makes it such a nice alternative to your regular salad that you're used to.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yeah, it seems to me like it'll really hold up well in the fridge, like as a --as a meal prepped salad.

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  It's a perfect meal prep salad. Added to my kale salad, I have some cooked, peeled beets.  They're on the smaller side, so I'm taking them and just quartering them, 'cause I like. I'm going to be big and chunky on my salad and now I baked off some chicken just with some salt, pepper and garlic. Really very basic simple.  They were organic. I picked him up while they were on sale.  I sliced my chicken breasts.  And I'm just going to sort of fan them out right next to my beets on each of my salads.  I've got about 1/2 of a breast per salad, which would be a nice protein during my work days. I'm going to chop up some pecans. You can toast them or not.  That is totally up to you.  I've got my pecans chopped and I'm going to do some crumbled goat cheese.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Jackie has her containers lined up on the counter with the nearly complete salads assembled inside.  The bright yellow orange persimmon dressing cuts a dashing figure across the deep purple of the beets.  Framed by the chicken, the goat cheese and the rich green of the kale, Jackie knows how to make an ordinary work lunch into something to look forward to.  Next up in our Persimmon extravaganza, Jackie has a dessert, but it's not what you might expect.

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  So now we are making chia pudding, and if you haven't had chia pudding before, chia seeds are super fun.  They look kind of similar to a poppy seed, but then when you put them in liquid it soaks up the liquid around it and it kind of creates this sort of tapioca like texture around that inner seed you can use it to thicken any liquid.  I'm doing coconut milk today.  Chia pudding is sort of a cross between panna cotta and tapioca pudding.  So right now it's just an organic coconut milk like you would drink a coconut milk, not like a canned coconut milk, so it's a thinner coconut milk.  The coconut milk itself is slightly sweetened, so I won't be adding any other sort of sugar to it.  It's a ratio of about 1 cup of liquid to 4 tablespoons of chia seeds.

Our first one is chia pudding with coconut milk and we're going to do persimmon and pumpkin seeds so you can do this like you would do the smoothie bowls that we did before or yogurt where you're topping.  You could add granola to it.  You can add fruit on top of it.  Anything sort of flavor components and extra texture options.  That's that's completely up to you

KAYTE YOUNG: To the chia seed coconut mixture, Jackie adds some strongly brewed chai tea.

JACKIE B, HOWARD:  I'm gonna add this a little bit at a time to get to the consistency that I want

KAYTE YOUNG:  'cause that's the Jackie way

JACKIE B. HOWARD:  That is the Jackie way. That's right, it can be your way too.

KAYTE YOUNG:  She ended up adding three tablespoons of tea to flavor the chai pudding then she got out a fancy glass and spooned a layer of the slate colored pudding into the bottom of the glass.  Topped it with some straight up pureed persimmon.  Then she spooned in another layer of the chia pudding with a final layer of the persimmon puree on top, parfait style. I suggested a final dollop of whipped cream, but Jackie opted for a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds and coconut flakes.  It's a gorgeous presentation.  Be sure to check out the photo on our website.  I'd never had chia seed pudding, so I was excited to give it a try.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's so good.  I want more of the of the pudding part 'cause I really want to taste it I love the flavor of that.  It's really rich.  Like you, the Chai really is coming through.

JACKIE B. HOWARD: Good.  Good good yeah.

KAYTE YOUNG:  The textures are great in this.  Jackie had also picked up another native Indiana fruit.  Pawpaw, also already pureed.  She mixed some green matcha tea with the chia seed pudding to layer with the pawpaw. It was also delicious and completely original. See the recipes and variations at These recipes originally aired in 2018.


Even in America's bread basket, most children know more about Tik Tok than livestock.  But some schools are making farm work into classwork. As Harvest Public Media  Katie Pikes reports, they've built chicken coops and sheep pins near their playgrounds in ways that seemto pay off in the classroom.

[field sounds]

CHILD:   Welcome to chicken town. 

KATIE PIKES:  Students at Marnie Simons Elementary in Hamburg, Iowa, spent a lot of time doing chores on the schools mini farm, a chicken coop and pens for pigs, sheep and goats.  On this day, the children helped farm school coordinator Spencer Baldwin trim the chickens wings.

SPENCER BALDWIN: We'll spread that out. Bam, bam. See? Doesn't even care.

KATIE PIKES:  The small southwest Iowa School District has 50 chickens, four sheep, three goats and two piglets.  Students learn the basics of livestock anatomy and diet, but Baldwin says there's a larger lesson.

SPENCER BALDWIN:  The biggest thing the kids learn is just how to treat the animals that interact with them.  You know, especially as little or these little kids.  My kindergartner out here.  When we were first out here, they like to run and chase, you know, and they don't mean anything by it.They just want to be around them. They want to, they want to pet 'em, want to snuggle and whatever.

KATIE PIKES:  But Baldwin says the younger kids quickly learned not to stress the animals by chasing them.  The older children, like 5th grader Kayla McIntosh, put in some real farm work.  She wants to help deliver the sheep babies this spring.

KAYLA MCINTOSH:  I've never lived on a farm.  So I actually want to experience it.

KATIE PIKES:   Most kids in the town of 1100 people don't live on a farm, but the majority of Hamburg students get in on farm school and some teachers say it's affected their classes in a good way. First grade teacher Michelle Hendrickson says her students gravitate towards reading books about farm animals

MICHELLE HENDRICKSON:  They do dive into the farm animals and want to learn more about the chickens and more so the animals that we've had on the farm, have sparked an interest in their reading.

KATIE PIKES:  She says her students have become more productive because they're eager to finish tasks so they can help out on the farm.  But it's not all cute chicks and playful swine.  Hamburg Superintendent Mike Wells says the farm teaches children a work ethic and maintaining a farm at a school is a lot of work.

MIKE WELLS:  On weekends, who takes care of the animals?  You have to set up a system of kids who are dependable to come in and feed and take care of the animals.

KATIE PIKES:  Wells says if someone doesn't lock up the chickens at night, raccoons or possums could kill them.  This is the farm school's fifth year. It started after a group of students incubated some chicken eggs. Those eggs became chicks that grew up and needed a home. Students had to get special permission from the City Council because local laws forbid livestock in town.

MIKE WELLS:  All these buildings out here were built by kids.  They're not perfect, but it was their design and and they built it.

KATIE PIKES: A few other Iowa schools have small farm schools too, and several schools in Columbia, MO raised chickens. Iowa 4H youth development, Ben Poland says the number of children who live on farms and raise livestock for 4H projects is shrinking.

BEN POLAND:  Which is where having these special projects having these these different opportunities allows for youth to engage in these things that maybe didn't have that opportunity otherwise.

KATIE PIKES:  And with the number of farms also decreasing, people fall out of touch with where their food comes from.  Natalie Carroll is a professor of Agricultural Science, Education and Communication at Purdue University.  She says a school farm can help make city kids understand farm life.

NATALIE CARROLL:  Our food doesn't just come from the store, it doesn't just show up magically and they gain an appreciation for how much it takes to raise food.  The choices that have to be made.

KATIE PIKES:  That's an important lesson at Hamburg Farm School.  The piglets, the kids call them Breakfast and Lunch, will be slaughtered at the end of the school year.  Farm school coordinator Spencer Baldwin says that topic will come up.

SPENCER BALDWIN:  It can be a tough lesson to learn, but it's a good thing to learn, especially in an agricultural community here.  You know, a lot of them have been exposed to that.

KATIE PIKES: Baldwin says a few of the younger children get emotional, but the older kids help them through. Even those tough lessons feed into a hands on education in agriculture.  All part of a window into farm life for young children.  Katie Pikes.  Harvest Public Media.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Harvest Public Media as a reporting collaborative.  Focused on Food and Agriculture in the Midwest. Find more at


KAYTE YOUNG:  Jackie B Howard mentioned pawpaw in one of her recipes.  It's another Indiana fruit you can collect in the forest around here in the fall.  We'll close today's show with a draft of an essay at on the topic of pawpaws from Ross Gay's Book of Delights.

ROSS GAY:  It's called Pawpaw Grove.  Yesterday I left my building on campus and was biking along the Jordan River. Truly it's called the Jordan River and unlike its more famous cousin, was named for David Starr Jordan, one time president of Indiana University, eventual president of Stanford University and pioneer in the field of eugenics to investigate what I suspected zooming by a few days back might be a pawpaw grove.

It is a dear correction this computer keeps making, turning pawpaw into Pappaw, which means for those of you not from this neck of the woods, Papa or grandpa, which a pawpaw grove can feel like, especially standing inside of it, midday when the light limbs, the big leaves like stained glass, and suddenly you're inside something ancient and protective.  It only now occurs to me that not every reader will know the pawpaw, which doubles my delight.  For I'm introducing you to the largest fruit native to the states. It's custardy meat surrounds a handful of large black seeds.  It tastes like a blend of banana and mango in that tropical ballpark.  Shocking here in the Midwest and as a consequence of its flavor profile has been called the Indiana or Hoosier Banana.  The Michigan banana.  The Kentucky banana. The Ohio banana.  The West Virginia banana and probably the Pennsylvania banana.  And maybe the Virginia banana.  Most likely the Illinois Banana.  Alabama banana for sure, and the Banana of Kansas. The leaves seem to be insecticidal and smell that way.  The flowers are so human as to make you blush.  Telling where this grove is between Ballantine and the President house, right along the river, which is actually a creek, is not evidently the kind of thing you always do, which I learned when I asked my friend Julie, where the pawpaw grove was that she was raving about the previous year.

I'm not telling, she said, though she doesn't remember this interaction or her pawpaw grove conveniently. I admire her papaw covetousness.  It reminds me of the dreams I still sometimes have Sleeping dreams of treasure of one kind or another.  As a kid, it used to be money, especially silver coins, often in big old vessels or chests. Something, I imagine was informed at least by the movie Goonies.  But as I get older, the treasure in my dreams seems to shift.  Now it's a veggie burger and french fries up the hill and around the bend that I can't remember how to get to. Or one final football game, granted, thanks to some kind of athletic eligibility snafu, at which when I arrive for it, usually late, my teammates either don't recognize me or would rather, I didn't play.  Or less miserably.  last night I left an event in celebration of my Uncle Roy who was also Barack Obama because I was under dressed.  This is a theme.

I found some beautiful green pants that fit me well in a chest of drawers in my childhood apartment.  Though I lost track of the festivities, so enamored was I of these pants.  My mother stepped out from the hall shouting disapprovingly that the first speaker had already finished turning quickly on her heel to return to her seat.  The delight of a pawpaw grove in addition to the Grove Ness, which is also a kind of naiveness, is in learning how to spot the fruit, which hang in clusters often and somewhat high in the tree.  This occasions pointing.  A human faculty that deserves at least a little celebration, which I realized pointing toward a grape I had tossed in the direction of the dog, which it did not respond to.  And then a few days later, point pointing at a bird for a baby to notice which it did not notice.  The pointy skill is acquired.  I wonder if there's a pointing stage and a miracle of cognition and understanding, both pointing and following the point to know there is an invisible line between the index finger and that barely discernible trio of fruits swaying up in the canopy, blending into the leaves until they twist, barely into the light and then out of it.  There's one, you whisper lest they fly away.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Ross Gay reading Pawpaw Grove from The Book of Delights, released in 2019. Ross Gay teaches at Indiana University, he’s the author of  Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His book-length poem, Be Holding, was released from the University of Pittsburgh Press in September of 2020.

[Earth Eats theme music] 

That's it for our show. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.

RENEE REED:  The Earth Eats team includes Eoban Binder, Mark Chilla, Abraham Hill, Peyton Knobeloch Josephine McRobbie, Daniella Richardson, Harvest Public Media, and me, Renee Reed.

KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Freddie Bitsoie, Bente Bouthier, Annie Corrigan, Louise Briggs, Jackie Bea Howard and Ross Gay

RENEE REED:  Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artists at Universal Productions Music.  Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.


Persimmons, orange and messy in a white enamel bowl and a plastic colander on a wooden table

Persimmons are ripe when they fall off the tree, so harvesting them means gathering them from the ground, where they inevitably collect a few leaves. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“To know there is an invisible line between the index finger and that barely discernible trio of fruit swaying up in the canopy...”

We’re honoring the fruits of Indiana forests today, with a pawpaw piece from poet, Ross Gay, a report from Bente Bouthier in the WFIU Newsroom about harvesting wild ginseng, plus, some favorite stories and recipes about persimmons. 

We also hear from Chef Freddie Bitsoie about creating pathways for Natvie cuisines (see the full story, below).

And Harvest Public Media has a story about what kids can learn when there is a Farm at school.

It's a jam-packed Earth Eats this week, I hope you have a chance to listen.

For the Love of Persimmon

They're round, they're orange, they're squishy and sweet.

Of course we are talking about persimmons, the quintessential fall fruit in the Midwest.

We revisted a beloved feature from Earth Eats founder and former host, Annie Corrigan. It's about Louise Briggs and her 60 food persimmon tree and how she shares her bountiful harvest with the community. 

Jackie Bea Howard is back with us, and she has an unexpected take on cooking with persimmon.

Jackie is currently with Unveiled but she has cooked professionally for many years. Her approach to cooking involves intuition, eye-balling measurements, and lots and lots of tasting! She's developed her methods through years of cooking on the fly, and we'll hear a little of her story on this week's show. She has tips for building flavor in a dish, and insights on tasting, and on knowing what to add, depending on what you're tasting, when.

But if you're not ready to fly without a net just yet, we jotted down Jackie's recipes, including a variation featuring another Indiana native fruit, the pawpaw.

And nationally acclaimed poet, Ross Gay reads a draft of an essay from The Book of Delights. This one celebrates the pawpaw.

Check out all the other great persimmon recipes we've featured over the years:

Persimmon Panna Cotta

Persimmon Pudding

Peppered Persimmon Donuts, with Persimmon Glaze

Persimmon Waffle

Persimmon Jam

Music on this episode:

The Earth Eats' theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Music Box & Sunshine by Daniel Birch, from the Free Music Archive.

Additional music comes to us from the artists at Universal Productions Music.


Stories On This Episode

Chef Freddie Bitsoie--Making A Pathway For Native Cuisines

Chef Freddie Bitsoie standing in white chef's jacket at a table with bowls of food and an induction burner.

As the chef for the cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, Freddie Bitsoie expands understanding of Native Foodways.

Three Bean Ragout With Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

Slices of roasted meat on a bed of different types of beans.

Chef Freddie Bitsoie of Mitsitam Cafe shares a recipe of stewed beans and roasted pork.

Pawpaw Grove

A man sitting in an adirondack chair in a garden, hand on chin, smiling.

Essay number eighty-six in Ross Gay's Book of Delights.

Jackie Bea’s Persimmon Lamb Curry

Lamb and veggie stew

Try adding persimmon to this lamb and veggie stew!

Jackie Bea's Chai Tea Chia Pudding With Persimmon

You don't have to get fancy with your chia persimmon pudding, but it's a lot more fun that way! (Kayte Young/WFIU)

The chia seeds transform into pudding, naturally. Infuse them with chai tea, top it with persimmon and you've got a light and delicious show-stopper.

Jackie Bea's Persimmon Salad Dressing

This thick, tangy dressing will marinate the beets in these salads, prepped ahead of time for a week of lunches (Kayte Young/WFIU)

Here's a quick and savory idea for persimmon purée: mix it in with your vinaigrette!

The Persimmons Are Falling!


Louise Briggs has a love/hate relationship with her 60-foot persimmon tree. We visit the crew of locals who are helping to put the fruit to good use.

The Midwest lost two species to extinction, and humans are largely to blame

Ivory-billed woodpecker

The ivory-billed woodpecker and the tubercled-blossom pearly mussel were recently delisted from the endangered species list.

For some schoolkids, lesson plans include arithmetic, art and now agriculture

Fifth grader holds chickens as its wings are trimmed

Even in America’s breadbasket, most children know more about TikTok than livestock. But some schools are making farm work into classwork. They’ve built chicken coops and sheep pens near their playgrounds in ways that seem to pay off in the classroom.

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