The Other Kinsey Report

Alfred C. Kinsey's scientific interests went well beyond sex.

Mrs. Kinsey's Persimmon Pudding

Mrs. Kinsey's Persimmon Pudding


The correspondence between Kinsey and Fernald slowed dramatically after 1926. No mention of "the book" is made until January 7, 1943, when Fernald wrote excitedly to Kinsey:

That long-buried manuscript on the Edible Wild Plants has suddenly come to life. You may remember that 25 years ago I tried to get it published, but four different publishers after accepting it, sent it back because they saw no way to cover the expense of the illustrations and thought that the market was too limited. Now it seems desirable to get the manuscript up-to-date, which I am doing, and the Idlewild Press of Cornwall, N.Y., has offered to print it in their best style (which is rather nifty).

Kinsey responded positively to this "pleasant surprise," then went on to add: However, since my name is going to be on this thing, and since I have some scientific reputation on the basis of my other work, I wonder if it would not be desirable to have me read the manuscript again before it goes into print.

By "other work," Kinsey was referring to his sex research, which he had begun in 1938 and was now thoroughly absorbed in pursuing. Fernald had greatly expanded and embellished the manuscript, which now bore little resemblance to the original draft of 1919. Yet Kinsey, ever the perfectionist, went on to submit some five pages of detailed edits to the manuscript.

It is probably no coincidence that Edible Wild Plants, after lying dormant for so long, was published when it was. Kinsey had recently secured a grant from the National Research Council and the Rockefeller Foundation for his sex research. Ernest G. Stillman, an official at the book publisher, Idlewild Press, was also a graduate and benefactor of Harvard University, and a member of a prominent banking family. The well-connected Stillman would almost certainly have been aware of Kinsey's "other work" and its prominent funders. And Stillman was surely mindful of the publicity value of having Kinsey's name on the book's cover, just when his sex research was gaining prominence.

The book finally came off the presses in 1943. To the surprise of almost everyone involved, it was successful enough to warrant a second printing that same year. One reason was that the U.S. Army, then in the throes of the Second World War, used the book in its wilderness-survival training program. The book's publication also coincided with food shortages then sweeping the nation. As Fernald pointed out in his revision of Kinsey's introduction, the consumer of edible wild plants "will be most content; and every time he will recognize that he has made small draft on the ration-book of coupons."

In 1947 Kinsey established the Institute for Sex Research, Inc. (now the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Inc.) at Indiana University. The first of his explosive reports was published in 1948, establishing his legacy. Fernald died in 1950, shortly after finishing the eighth edition of Gray's Manual of Botany. Soon thereafter, Reed C. Rollins was appointed director of Harvard's Gray Herbarium, and he wrote Kinsey to propose a revised edition of Edible Wild Plants. Kinsey agreed, but the publication of the second edition, like that of the first, suffered long delays. In fact, Kinsey died on August 25, 1956, of congestive heart failure, before the second edition came out. Not until 1958 did Harper & Row publish the second edition, which remained in print through the mid-1970s. Edible Wild Plants was reprinted in 1996 by Dover Publications, and it is once again widely available at an affordable price.

Who could have guessed that a manuscript on edible plants, written on used herbarium sheets by a frugal graduate student in entomology, would become one of the classics in its field, entertaining and educating readers even eighty-seven years later? Its existence is testament to an enduring collaboration by two authoritative scientists, and to Kinsey's extraordinary intellectual flexibility and scientific curiosity. Just don't leaf through it and expect to find any sex.

Clara B. M. Kinsey's Persimmon Pudding

2 cups persimmon pulp
1 cup (scant) sugar
1 egg
2 cups milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon allspice

Combine the ingredients, beating well. It is best to save about half the milk until all the flour has been added. Pour about 1 1/2 inches deep in well greased pans and bake about an hour in a 325° oven. The pudding turns dark brown when it is done. Serve either warm or cold with whipped cream. Soft, juicy persimmons make the best pudding.

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