(Makes 2 small loaves)
“Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.”
This was how Euell Gibbons introduced Grape-Nuts cereal to many Americans, and this is how many Americans—including me—were introduced to Euell Gibbons. The late naturalist and wild foods advocate authored bestselling books championing the bounty of food sprouting naturally throughout our environs. But Gibbons is perhaps best known for his commercials promoting Post’s enduring breakfast cereal.
Gibbons would use the television spots, some even filmed in the Appalachians near his home in central Pennsylvania, to introduce viewers to a few foods he liked to gather on his hikes. In one commercial, Gibbons snaps off the corndog-like flower spike of a cattail, teaching us that this plant is edible and wholesome, not unlike his bowl of Grape-Nuts. In another, Gibbons hikes through knee-deep snow to harvest high-bush cranberries, the perfect addition to a breakfast of Grape-Nuts and milk. Gibbons would then conclude each advertisement with a flavor assessment of the cereal, telling viewers: “Its naturally sweet taste reminds me of wild hickory nuts.”
Gibbons’s pivotal book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, which reintroduced Americans to Nature’s bounty of wild foods and made him a folk-hero and television celebrity almost overnight, includes over one hundred recipes for vegetable and casserole dishes, cakes, pies, muffins, and bread—all made with foraged ingredients. One of his favorite ingredients is shellbark hickories. Rather than the blander, bitterer English walnut we typically fold into brownie or cookie batter, Gibbons routinely added hickory nuts. They have a satisfying chewiness and a subtle, floral aroma, with flavors of maple and sweet cinnamon, perfect for his favorite cookie as a child: oatmeal-hickory. He even felt the pecan—itself a type of hickory—was inferior to shellbark hickories and its sister shagbark hickories. “Hickory nut pie is closely akin to pecan pie,” Gibbons wrote, “but I consider the distinctive hickory-nut flavor a decided improvement.”
Here is Gibbons’s recipe for Persimmon–Hickory Nut Bread, a creation that came to him when he was foraging wild American persimmons and happened upon a shellbark tree just a few yards away. He considered this recipe one of the finest for persimmons as well as hickories.
8 ounces American persimmon pulp
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs, well beaten
½ cup chopped hickory nuts (shellbark or shagbark)
Extract the persimmon pulp with a chinois or a fine-meshed sieve or colander. Preheat the oven to 325°F and line two small loaf pans with wax paper and set aside.
Sift the flour and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, mix the sugar with the softened butter. Add the beaten eggs and mix well, then stir in the flour-soda mixture. Fold in the persimmon pulp and the hickory nuts. By now, the batter should be quite stiff.
Drop half of the batter into each loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. The persimmon pulp will darken as it cooks, giving the bread a rich gingerbread color. Gibbons noted the bread is delicious as is, insisting that flavorings or spices never be added, “for persimmons and nuts are flavorful enough.”