Whether you call them pawpaws, Hillbilly mangoes, Quaker Delights, or Hoosier bananas, this is the American-grown fruit you should know about.
If you’ve never tried a pawpaw fruit, you may want to look in your backyard before you head to the store. Pawpaws are indigenous to 26 states in the United States – they grow from northern Florida all the way to Canada, and as far west as eastern Nebraska. There was a time when this fruit nourished Native Americans and settlers, which probably explains the fruit's folksy nicknames like hillbilly mangoes, Quaker Delights, or Hoosier bananas.
What are Pawpaws?
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
Sign up for our daily newsletter for more great articles and tasty, healthy recipes.
Pawpaws are the largest edible fruit that grows in the U.S., not counting gourds; they grow as an understory tree and spread to form “pawpaw patches” (we promise we’re not making this up).
Pawpaw fruit is unlike anything you’ve ever tried – it has flavor notes of banana, mango, pear, and melon. The flesh is soft and has the mouthfeel of custard – some even say it tastes similar to banana pudding. But great taste isn't all that this obscure fruit has to offer – a serving of pawpaw boasts high levels of B-6, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, iron, and phosphorus.
Pawpaw is best eaten during peak season – from August to September. For the best pawpaws, look for unblemished, green fruits with the softness of a ripe peach. There's just one catch – pawpaw is pretty hard to come by. You could try getting lucky at your local farmer's market or specialty produce store, but your best bet is growing your own pawpaw tree.
Southern Living’s “Grumpy Gardener” Steve Bender says that the fruit isn’t very popular for two reasons: “First, its thin skin bruises easily, making it difficult to ship. Second, ripe fruits rot within a couple of days unless you freeze them.”
How to Use PawPaw Fruit
Enjoy the fruit as-is by removing the skin and sucking out the juicy flesh – just be careful to avoid the brown seeds. If you want to experiment with pawpaws, you can puree the flesh and make pawpaw butter or fruit leather – it can also be added to smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods, cocktails, or slathered on toast with a drizzle of honey.
What Is a Paw Paw?
What tastes like a cross between a banana and a mango and might be growing in your neighborhood right now?
If you're not sure, you probably don't know about the paw paw.
A little-known native of the eastern United States, paw paw fruit has yellow-green skin and soft, orange flesh with a creamy, custard-like consistency and a delicious, sweet flavor. [Science You Can Eat: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Food]
These qualities have earned it the nickname "custard apple," but it also goes by "poor man's banana" and "Indiana banana."
The paw paw tree (Asimina triloba) is indigenous to 26 states in the United States, growing wild from the Gulf Coast up to the Great Lakes region. It's a favorite host plant of the zebra swallowtail butterfly, whose larvae feed on the leaves.
Historically, the fruit was enjoyed by Native Americans and early European settlers alike. At least two U.S. presidents favored paw paws: George Washington reportedly enjoyed them for dessert, and Thomas Jefferson was known to have grown paw paws at Monticello.
Today the paw paw, which often grows along the banks of rivers and streams, is a convenient snack for kayakers and a staple in the autumn diets of many country dwellers.
Paw paw aficionados eat the fruit straight from the tree, or use it in a variety of delicious recipes. Paw paw ice cream, anyone? How about paw paw-nut bread?
But despite this fruit's popularity with locals and its rich nutritional value (it's high in protein, antioxidants, vitamins A and C and several essential minerals), the pawpaw has managed to stay out of most grocery stores and off the radar of big agriculture.
The odd beanlike shape and mottled skin of the pawpaw make it a hard sell to consumers who don't know the custardy sweetness that lies beneath the fruit's exterior. And the pawpaw doesn't travel well: It bruises easily and has a short shelf life (two to three days at room temperature).
So if you want to give paw paws a try, don't run to the supermarket. Instead, look for this fruit at farmer's markets and specialty stores &mdash including some online retailers &mdash in the late summer or early autumn.
If you're a do-it-yourselfer, you can purchase your own pawpaw trees and start harvesting these fruits within a few years. As a native of the United States, it has few pests and doesn't need much care.
But be forewarned that the pawpaw's maroon blossom, while beautiful, is said to smell like rotting meat &mdash which might further explain its delayed cultivation. (Bees and other insects show little interest in the pawpaw flower, so hand-pollination is sometimes required.)
Pawpaws: America's Best Secret Fruit
If you're lucky, America's best secret fruit might be growing on a tree close to your backyard. Or perhaps a county or two away. Finding it takes effort, but it's rejuvenating effort. Tromping around in the woods seeking pawpaws makes me feel more a little more human, and the pawpaw's enticing taste is only one of its rewards. What begins under a leafy canopy ends in your kitchen, with untold culinary possibilities.
What Are Pawpaws, Anyway?
Pawpaw trees, the largest edible fruit trees native to North America, produce greenish-blackish fruit, usually three to six inches long. The flesh is pale to bright yellow and contains a network of glossy, dark brown seeds. A pawpaw's flavor is sunny, electric, and downright tropical: a riot of mango-banana-citrus that's incongruous with its temperate, deciduous forest origins. They also have a subtle kick of a yeasty, floral aftertaste a bit like unfiltered wheat beer. "The flavor of pawpaws is forceful and distinct," writes culinary historian Mark F. Sohn diplomatically in his encyclopedic book, Appalachian Home Cooking.
A pawpaw is a homely, unassuming thing on the outside it's possible to unwittingly pass a tree laden with half a dozen of the things. But let's say you notice the pawpaws, and reach for a ripe one. The best way to enjoy a pawpaw is right there in the woods, tearing into it as if you had claws. Rip the skin away, slurp the pulp, and spit out the seeds. It's a gooey, sensuous, primal experience. You have now eaten from the tree of earthly knowledge, and guess what? It tastes really damn good.
Pawpaws grow from the Great Lakes down to portions of the Florida Panhandle. The members of the Lewis and Clark expedition ate pawpaws for pleasure, and, for a period in Missouri in 1806, subsistence. John James Audubon depicted yellow-billed cuckoos on a pawpaw branch. Our early American ancestors enjoyed pawpaws for centuries, spreading them as far west as Kansas. In 1541, the expedition of conquistador Hernando de Soto recorded Native Americans growing and eating pawpaws in the Mississippi Valley. And even though they had to clear pawpaw trees to create farmable land, white settlers savored pawpaw fruit—often the only fresh fruit available nearby. There are towns named Paw Paw in Michigan, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma (Mid-Atlantic and Midwest states make up the pawpaw hot zone.)
But the more industrialized our country became, the less relevant pawpaws were. Pawpaws have had some public-awareness issues. An abundance of folksy nicknames, for one: Hoosier banana, Indian banana, custard apple, Quaker delight. That pawpaw means papaya in other parts of the world does not help any, either. (Despite Baloo's "Bare Necessities" shout-out in the Disney version of The Jungle Book, pawpaws are unrelated to papayas.)
But currently there's a groundswell, a pawpaw renaissance. The small but enthusiastic pawpaw community encompasses both professional and amateur growers, and it culminates at gatherings like the Ohio Pawpaw Festival, a laid-back event now in its 16th year, where family hula-hooping workshops and presentations on pawpaw propagation balance out a robust beer garden and music stage. Festival-goers queue up for free samples of pawpaw ice cream, a sweet and tasty introduction to the enticing possibilities of pawpaw cuisine.
Here's the catch: easy-bruising pawpaws have a short shelf life and don't currently fit in the business model of big agriculture. A scattered network of academics and horticulturalists are researching to see if that could change, if someday a growing and marketing strategy could make pawpaws an enticing new product in the produce aisle--the next POM Wonderful. Whatever the case, the far-flung, diverse, and loosely affiliated pawpaw scene is an exciting place to be right now. To be part of it, all you have to do is taste.
How to Get Your Hands on Pawpaws
Your options are grow, buy, or forage. Pawpaw trees are great for landscaping, and a grafted tree may bear fruit in two years, but they can be tricky. Growers of pawpaws don't tend to be run-of-the-mill people. They're analytical, curious, a bit eccentric, and often generous (I have never had so many swift and sweet responses to an email as my pawpaw query to the California Rare Fruit Grower's Society did.)
Let's assume you can't wait for fruit to grow. Ask around at your local farmers market if you're in the Midwest or Mid-Atlantic regions, where the odd dozen or so pawpaws may show up around September or October. It's not cheap, but you can have fresh pawpaws shipped to you in season, and frozen pawpaw pulp year-round. The specialty foods company Earthy Delights says that requests for pawpaws have gone up every year since NPR first aired a story about them in 2011. You can also go directly to the source and contact Albany, Ohio's Integration Acres, "the world's largest pawpaw processor." Founded in 1996, they use both their own pawpaws and ones from other growers and gatherers in the region, selling both frozen pulp and mixed-fruit 'pawpaw pops.'
By far the most fun way to get pawpaws, though, is to take to the woods and pretend you are a hunter-gatherer. I found my first pawpaws accidentally, while hiking within city limits of the Southeast Ohio town where I live. A ripe pawpaw lay squashed in the middle of the trail, revealing its bright yellow interior. I glanced up, spotted more pawpaws well within my reach, and unexpectedly entered into a torrid feral fruit love affair.
Pawpaws at the peak of ripeness simply fall from the tree, whereupon they get smashed and icky. So the key is to pick almost-ripe pawpaws, the ones whose stems break off with no resistance from the branch. They'll have a little give under the skin, like a perfect peach. The fruit on a pawpaw tree won't ripen all at once the ideal pawpaw spot is one you can return to easily and often.
Let's say that's not the case. Don't freak. Some pawpaws are better than no pawpaws. This is edible natural history of North America. Just go with it.
How to Drink Pawpaws
When fresh fruit fails, seek beer. Pawpaw-flavored craft beer is a dynamic little pocket of the pawpaw world, and it's perhaps one of the most accessible ways to bring pawpaws to the people.
Jay Wince is president and head brewer at Weasel Boy Brewing in Zanesville, Ohio. They brew the Weasel Paw Pawpaw Pale Ale, an English-style pale ale flavored with pawpaw pulp. Like most brewers making pawpaw beers, they source foodservice-size buckets of frozen pawpaw pulp from Integration Acres. At Weasel Boy, they add the thawed pawpaw after fermentation to create a secondary ferment before filtering. "People look forward to it," Wince says of his pawpaw ale. A floral and yeasty brew with an unmistakable pawpaw finish, it's available on tap and in kegs only from May through September. "Unless you go to a specialized place, you're not going to just run across fresh pawpaws," he continues. "There are an awful lot of people from here who've never seen or heard of a pawpaw. They say, 'Does this grow here?' Beer can be a good ambassador and promotional tool for it. After trying the pawpaw ale, I've had customers bring fruits into the bar to share."
Like several other small Ohio microbreweries, Weasel Boy began experimenting with pawpaw beer at the urging of fellow brewer Kelly Sauber and Ohio Pawpaw Festival organizers (the Pawpaw Wheat Beer I had from Jackie O's Brewery at last year's festival kept me calm and contented while I stood in line with my daughter for an hour, waiting for her turn to request a free balloon animal.)
Wince doesn't expect pawpaw beers to conquer national markets anytime soon. "I think there can be a niche market, but never a wide application unless they change the way it's harvested and the product is more widely available. Pawpaw beers are a regional thing, a seasonal thing."
Cooking with Pawpaws
If you strike pawpaw gold—either in the woods or at a farmer's market—you need to have an action plan. Ripe pawpaws only last for two or three days at room temperature. They do well in the refrigerator for about a week if fully ripe, three weeks if a little underripe. (Firm pawpaws don't ripen well off the tree.) Tree-ripened pawpaws are best soft, overripe ones tend to have off notes.
Unlike, say, mangoes, the custardy flesh inside a pawpaw is entirely too soft to be diced. Once you separate it from the seeds and skin, it's already a handy purée, almost like the pulp of a ripe hachiya persimmon. To extract it, halve the pawpaws with a knife and squish them with your bare hands through a colander set over a large bowl (an even better alternative is a conical strainer with a wooden pestle.) The pulp freezes well in a Ziploc bag for up to six months (see our guide to efficiently freezing and defrosting foods here). It oxidizes quickly, so when storing pawpaw pulp in the refrigerator, stir in a little lemon juice and keep the air out by pressing plastic wrap directly on the surface. The pulp is best used within a day.
What next? The pawpaw's most distinct flavor compounds are volatile, so it's best to use it in recipes that don't expose it to heat: think frozen and icebox desserts, smoothies, or salsas. Make your favorite banana pudding, except layer in pawpaw pulp instead of banana slices. You can use a trusty mango sorbet or frozen yogurt recipe and swap pawpaws for the mango. Pawpaws sing with dairy products, so incorporating them with a panna cotta or just spooning some over a good plain yogurt always pleases.
One big exception to the no-heat rule is baking. Thanks to copious amounts of flour and sugar, pawpaw functions well in homey cakes, cookies, and quick breads, where its flavors are subtle. Long-cooked, homemade pawpaw preserves I've had mixed success with, though Integration Acres' pawpaw jam (which cuts the pawpaw with berries) is divine on a cracker with chevre.
The pawpaw's appeal isn't just its flavor. These lost-and-found fruits are both abundant and rare, and this puts those of us with heartfelt stakes in the Pawpaw Conspiracy in the strange place of wanting to get lots of people excited about a semi-secret, wild food. In five years, could pawpaws be the next ramps, eliciting sneers of disdain from trend-hoppers suffering pawpaw hype fatigue? I hope not, but if so, you'll still find me out in the woods, feverishly scanning the low, leafy canopy for just-ripe quarry to pluck.
All About Pawpaws
What are pawpaws? Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) are shade-loving understory trees that grow the largest edible fruit native to North America. Take a look.
Guest article by Patti Moreno
What are pawpaws?
Also known as the American Custard Apple, or Indiana Banana, pawpaws were widely eaten and enjoyed by Native Americans back in the day. Currently, pawpaw trees can be found growing wild in the U.S. as a shade-loving, understory tree.
Pawpaws are actually very large berries, sometimes growing longer than 6 inches. They turn from green to yellow (or brown) when ripe. The fruit has a strong tropical flavor — similar to bananas, pineapples, or mangoes.
Ripe pawpaw fruits have a very short shelf life: about 3-5 days. This has made it impossible for pawpaws to be sold in most grocery stores, since they can’t be transported to market quickly enough. Growing pawpaws in your backyard is the best way for you to enjoy this fruit.
Young pawpaw trees can be sensitive to full sunlight and require filtered sun for the first year or two. This is because, in nature, pawpaw trees grow as "understory trees", in the shade of other much larger trees. Once established, pawpaw trees produce the most fruit when grown in full sun. Pawpaws fruit in shade too, but they may produce less fruit than trees grown in full sun. The solution here is to build a temporary shade cloth structure over young trees and remove it once they are older and established (you can tell once they start blooming that they're ready to fruit!) so that they can take advantage of the full sun exposure.
Pawpaw trees are cold-hardy fruit trees, meaning they grow well in colder climates. This applies to the Asimina triloba pawpaw, or common pawpaw, which grows from North Florida all the way to Canada.
For proper pollination plant at least two different grafted varieties of pawpaws (two or more grafted trees cannot cross-pollinate if they are the same variety). Alternately, you can plant two or more seedling pawpaw trees, which will be able to cross-pollinate one another. Pawpaw trees rely on insects to cross-pollinate the flowers, so it is important that your landscape is friendly to pollen-moving insects.
Pawpaw fruit forms in clusters, from 2 to 9 fruits per cluster. Pawpaws are low maintenance and, because they are native to the US, there are very few issues with garden pests making pawpaw trees great to plant if you practice organic gardening.
Grafted pawpaw trees purchased from Stark Bro’s start fruiting in about 3-5 years!
Begin harvesting pawpaws in mid August through the first frost (generally early- to mid-October). Pawpaws are great to eat fresh off the tree, but they have a lot of uses in recipes as well! Because of their banana-like taste and texture, pawpaws make a good banana substitute for recipes like banana bread. They are healthy, too, with more protein, vitamin C, iron, niacin, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, cooper, and manganese than apples, oranges, or bananas.
Pawpaw fruit is nutritious, making it perfect fruit for healthy, delicious smoothies! Smoothies are quick, easy, and fun to make, as you can see in my video below. You’ll need to separate the skin and the seeds from the custardy flesh. The skin is edible, but doesn’t taste good and the seeds should not be eaten. Have fun and mix them with all sorts of other fruit!
Frequently asked Questions
- Question: What do Pawpaws taste like?
Answer:A pawpaw’s flavor is sunny, electric, and downright tropical: a riot of mango-banana-citrus that’s incongruous with its temperate, deciduous forest origins. They also have a subtle kick of a yeasty, floral aftertaste a bit like unfiltered wheat beer.
- Question: Is Paw Paw the same as papaya?
Answer:It’s easier than you think, you can tell the two apart by using shape and colour. A papaya has a red or red flesh inside and it is oval like a rugby ball. A pawpaw has yellow flesh, is slightly larger and more round like a soccer ball.
- Question: What are Pawpaws used for?
Answer:American pawpaw is a plant. The bark, leaf, and seed are used to make medicine. In homeopathy, American pawpaw is used for treating fever, vomiting, and pain and swelling (inflammation) of the mouth and throat. Homeopathy is an alternative treatment method that uses extreme dilutions of medicines.
- Question: What kind of food is pawpaw?
Answer:Pawpaws are the largest edible fruit that grows in the U.S., not counting gourds they grow as an understory tree and spread to form &ldquopawpaw patches&rdquo (we promise we’re not making this up). Pawpaw fruit is unlike anything you’ve ever tried – it has flavor notes of banana, mango, pear, and melon.
- Question: Are pawpaw seeds poisonous?
Answer:The pawpaw fruit’s skin and seeds can be toxic Both have proven toxic to humans. In fact, according to a Purdue University fact sheet on the fruit, the seeds contain vomit-inducing alkaloids in the endosperm.27 сент. 2020 г.
- Question: What does Paw Paw leaves cure?
Answer:Papaya leaf is often consumed as an extract, tea, or juice and has been found to treat symptoms related to dengue fever. Other common uses include reducing inflammation, improving blood sugar control, supporting skin and hair health, and preventing cancer.15 апр. 2020 г.
List of related literature:
Having plucked the pawpaw, you ate the pawpaw.
The pawpaw, too, is a splendid shrub, and in great abundance.
papaw or pawpaw ’pa-,pd Deciduous tree or shrub (Asimina triloba) of the -custard apple family, native to the E and midwestern U.S.
Organizer of gastronomic festivals.
You may also like
4 thoughts on &ldquo Freezing Pawpaw Pulp &rdquo
We press the pulp into 16 oz plastic containers (re-use cottage cheese containers) which stack nicely in the freezer. We can then use an ice cream scoop to serve this “paw paw sorbet” as a dessert (slight thawing is required as it freezes pretty hard). We found that it has a stronger pineapple flavor when in the frozen state. As it thaws more, it returns to its creamy smooth texture and fruity-like taste and smell. Amazingly it does not oxidize much. Sometimes the top surface turns a little bit brown, but it’s just barely on the surface and everything underneath is still yellow and flavorful.
Thanks Tania! Last year’s gallon bags got a bit cumbersome so this year I have been freezing sandwich size bags in small batches. The containers and sorbet scooping is a great idea.
Do you add fruit fresh or lemon juice to the purée to keep the color and taste of the PawPaw?
No, I freeze only the pawpaw pulp. In small batches it doesn’t discolor because it is bagged and sealed. We have found that the taste remains true to the fresh fruit as well. Do you have experience freezing pawpaw you would like to share?
Pawpaws are unusual and sweet
When you do encounter pawpaw, don't be put off by the fruit's homey appearance. Similar in size, shape, and color to mangoes, the pawpaw doesn't have the eye-catching allure of a pluot or dragonfruit. Instead, the pawpaw's mottled green skin bruises easily and may have brown spots when overripe (via SF Gate).
The pawpaw is one fruit, however, that you do not want to judge by its cover. Ripe when outrageously soft, the pawpaw's yellow interior flesh is as surprising as it is sweet. It has a creamy, custard-like consistency with a flavor reminiscent of tropical fruits. Some describe pawpaws as melon meets banana meets mango, pineapple, and berries (via Kentucky State University). These attempts to characterize the pawpaw's truly unique flavor is apparent in the fruit's folksy nicknames: Hoosier banana, Indian banana, and custard apple (via Serious Eats).
The pawpaw is typically eaten fresh as the soft flesh doesn't lend well to dicing. Berryman told Food & Wine, "I think the best way to eat them is to cut them open and eat them with a spoon, like an avocado." If you take her advice, be sure to avoid the pawpaw's large glossy black seeds. Lucky enough to be dealing with a glut of the quickly ripening fruit? You'll want a few pawpaw recipes up your selves. Pawpaw ice cream is a longstanding favorite amongst pawpaw connoisseurs. The flesh can also be frozen for later use in smoothies, muffins, or pudding.
The pawpaw fruit's skin and seeds can be toxic
Per The Earthy Delights Recipe Blog, before you take your first bite or slurp of this fruit, you need to discard the seeds and never bite into the skin. Both have proven toxic to humans. In fact, according to a Purdue University fact sheet on the fruit, the seeds contain vomit-inducing alkaloids in the endosperm. And if the seeds are chewed, a poison is released and they can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Interestingly enough, it was also noted that if swallowed whole, the seeds did not appear to pose these same problems. Still, it is recommended that pregnant women stay clear of this fruit altogether (via Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center).
So, if you plan to eat pawpaws, make certain you pop out the seeds and dispose of them or plant them if you want to try growing the fruit. Pawpaw fruits do not have a very long shelf life. In fact, if you don't eat them within about two days they become a mushy mess. But if you happen have purchased a large stash of these from a farmer's market, never fear. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer in a freezer-safe storage bags for six months, according to Serious Eats.
Before you go.
Each week, The Splendid Table brings you stories that expand your world view, inspire you to try something new and show how food brings us together. We rely on you to do this. And, when you donate, you'll become a member of The Splendid Table Co-op. It's a community of like-minded individuals who love good food, good conversation and kitchen companionship. Splendid Table Co-op members will get exclusive content each month and have special opportunities for connecting with The Splendid Table team.
Donate today for as little as $5.00 a month. Your gift only takes a few minutes and has a lasting impact on The Splendid Table and you'll be welcomed into The Splendid Table Co-op.
Tag: Pawpaw recipes
For The Love of Pawpaws: A Mini Manual for Growing and Caring for Pawpaws From Seed to Table
Michael Judd, Published August 2019 by Ecologia, Distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing, ISBN 978-0-578-48874-5.
This wonderful new book is inspiring and appetizing, practical and beautiful. About 150 pages of glorious photos, technical details, mouthwatering recipes, and anything else you might need to start growing pawpaws or to make better use of wild pawpaws on neglected trees nearby. Here you can learn the reasons to plant named cultivars that have been selected for size, flavor, and high yields.
Michael Judd, his wife Ashley and son Wyatt live at Long Creek Homestead in a round house on a homestead in the Maryland Appalachian foothills, where they grow many food trees and other fruits, and hold an annual Pawpaw Festival each September .
Pawpaws are related to custard apples and cherimoya, in the sugar apple family, and yet they grow in the temperate zone, having moved north as Ice Age glaciers receded. Flavors of mango, banana and pineapple come from this creamy fruit. But if you don’t know what you’re doing and you let them get bruised, or you pick them under-ripe, you can end up with a bitter taste in your mouth, or a bellyache. So get this book!
Learn how to spot wild pawpaws in a forest edge or along a river bank. They need full sun to develop good flavor, although the trees will grow in the shade. If you want to grow your own, you can of course grow them from wild seeds (that you keep damp and plant right after eating the fruit).
The four key elements of successful pawpaw production:
- moisture (minimum of 32” (81 cm) annual rainfall or access to continuous soil moisture)
- well-drained soil, preferably fertile
- warm humid summers with 160 frost-free days
- cold winters including some freezing temperatures and at least 400 chill hours.
USDA Winter-hardiness zones 5-9 are most-suited. If these factors are addressed, the pawpaw can be an easy-care fruit tree. We have all those factors in our area of central Virginia, and we have wild trees along the South Anna river. We also have cultivated varieties planted near our houses. Given the right conditions, pawpaw trees grow to an attractive 25 ft (7.6 m) pyramid shape, and can bear 50 lbs (23 k) of fruit each year.
It’s best to have two or more genetically different trees close together, for good cross-pollination and heavy fruit set. Individual flowers cannot pollinate themselves, and although each tree can self-pollinate, the yield might not be large. The unusual purple-brown flowers are fairly inconspicuous.
The chapters on growing the trees includes collecting seeds, germinating them, planting, grafting, choosing rootstock and the importance of soil fungi. Read about companion planting with nitrogen-fixing plants (such as lead plant, false indigo, black locust, which will need cutting back later) and soil-covering “mulch” plants (such as comfrey, yarrow, lemon balm, fuki, white clover). The tree-care chapter includes fruit thinning, and pruning (avoid climbing these brittle trees by keeping them 8 ft (2.4 m) tall).
If you have only eaten wild pawpaws, you’ll be amazed at the cultivated ones – much bigger, with a more balanced sweet flavor, delicious aroma and smooth texture. Michael offers advice on choosing a variety and choosing and planting potted seedlings. He introduces us to Neal Peterson, who he calls the Mahatma Pawpaw. Neal has created most of the best pawpaw cultivars. I profiled his work here.
Factors to consider include when the fruit ripens and whether all fruits ripen within a small window whether the fruit softens quickly whether the skin is thin (undesirable if you are selling or attempting to store the fruit) whether they tend to split in rainy weather whether they need a lot of fruit thinning to preserve the health of the tree how big the fruit is (4-6 oz ( 114-170 g )? 8oz ( 227 g )? 16 oz( 454 g )? ) the seed:pulp ratio (some big fruits have huge seeds – an ideal range is only 4-8% seeds). Michael offers profiles of the seven Peterson cultivars, the three Kentucky State University cultivars and Jerry Lehman’s two named cultivars. For the wannabe-grower in a hurry, there is a summary of the best cultivars for several factors, and for the person who has no time to read or experiment, Michael suggests sticking with the long-proven wild-sourced cultivars Overleese, Sunflower, PA Golden and NC-1.
H arvesting is both art and science. Under-ripe pawpaws can lead to belly-ache. Mishandling pawpaws can quickly lead to poor results. Windfalls that have lain on the ground for several days will likely be funky in smell and bitter in taste – don’t let your first experience of pawpaw be like this! The ideal is to hand-pick ripe fruit, and as the transition from rock-hard unripe pawpaws to ripe is very sudden, you’ll end up checking the same fruits more than once. Some cultivars change color, others don’t. Check daily! Ripening can finish l ater if they have begun ripening b efore y ou pick . The harvest period lasts 2-4 weeks (July in the Deep South, late August and early September in central Virginia, October in the Great Lakes region).
Photo Michael Judd
Be very gentle in handling these delicate fruits. Eat within 72 hours of picking or refrigerate (for 1-3 weeks, with the longer period being in a large cooler with a big air volume) Pawpaws exude large quantities of ethylene when ripening. This colorless, odorless gas causes other crops in the same storage space to ripen more, or to sprout, or in the case of carrots, to taste bitter. Alternatively, pulp and freeze (or freeze and pulp). This is one of the places where you learn time- and money-saving secrets – freeze the fruit s whole, remove from the freezer after 12 hours, warm them for half an hour, then peel as if they were potatoes, pry them open and pop the seeds out cleanly. Pu t the frozen chunks back into the freezer until you have more time. There are tips about keeping the yellow color, and which food mills and sauce-makers can pulp pawpaws.
There’s info on the nutritional content of pawpaws: 3.5 oz (100 g) provides 80 calories, including 1.2 g of protein and fat, and all of the essential amino acids.
The next section of the book is recipes and mouth-watering photos. (Cheesecake! Ice-cream!) First are the recommendations on eating pawpaws fresh off the tree, and in other ways raw. Next are the c autions about baking with flour which can mask the more subtle flavors and leave something that could be mistaken for banana pie or butterscotch tart. There are vital guidelines on how to use pawpaw pulp in recipes, and what not to do (do not boil or dry the fruit). Many pawpaw recipes are high in cream, butter and sugar, which you might relish. However, here are also some recipes that are healthier, including some vegan recipes. There’s also a simple recipe for unsweetened pawpaw jam, which they cook on a rocket stove, and one for pawpaw butter that includes some sugar and some bourbon. And beer, mead and kombucha.
Pawpaws and Permaculture
The first appendix is “Pawpaws and Permaculture” – here’s one of the special things I like about this book. First we learn about this particular tree crop, and bit by bit we see p ractices we associate with permaculture – swales, mulches, companion plants. It all makes sense. Here is an explanation for those of us who are not filled with religious zeal at e very awed utterance of the word “permaculture”. I’m not the type to believe a theory then fit my practice into that theory. I’d rather practice, observe, learn about options, choose from the most likely to succeed, evaluate, tweak, do a small experiment with a different method, and so on . Here’s “Permaculture for the Rest of Us.” In the past I have been put off by the religious zealotry of some permaculturists – the all or nothing, good or bad, I-know-better-than-you attitude, which does not lead us closer to co-operation, mutual learning or world peace. This book is refreshingly different from that branch of permaculture and I am very grateful for that.
I also got insight into what permaculturists mean when they talk of “Food Forests”. They don’t actually mean acres of food trees. They mean small clumps of trees within a lawn. Agroforestry is the name for the type of farming that includes trees as windbreaks and crops, and pawpaws are a good candidate for inclusion. Goats don’t eat pawpaw trees! In this part of the book, the place for pawpaws in H ü gelkultur beds (piles of wood covered in soil) greywater berms (shallow trenches funneling sink water into the landscape and rain gardens (areas that store rainwater in the soil to irrigate plants) is explored .
Commercial Pawpaw Farming
For those venturing into commercial pawpaw growing and marketing, t here is a profile of Deep Run Pawpaw Orchard in Maryland, where trees are 8 ft (2.4 m) apart in rows 15 ft apart (4.6 m), and produce 6,000 lbs (2.7 metric tons) annually. Their best varieties are Shenandoah, Allegheny, Susquehanna and PA Golden, and grafting onto wild rootstock has given them better drought tolerance. They have tips on commercial-scale pruning, thinning and fertilizing.
Onward and Upward
I was thrilled to learn that the zebra swallowtail butterfly has a single host – the pawpaw! We have these butterflies (in small numbers) and I didn’t know much about them. The caterpillars do not do significant damage to the leaves of grown trees, and the acetogenins from the leaves make the insect unpalatable to predators.
I have one little quibble with this book, which is that it would have benefited from t ighter editing in some places. It’s not at all verbose or convoluted, but sometimes a piece of info has become detached from its colleagues, and occasionally it gets repeated. But all the info here is good, and actionable. And if you don’t read the whole book at one sitting, as I did, it won’t even be a problem!
After you’ve enjoyed the book, if you are anywhere nearby, book in for one of t heir open days between March and June, and in September and October at Long Creek Homeste a d near Fre derick, Marylan d . T he annual Pawpaw Festival is in September. No! No! don’t just show up at their home at some random time of your choosing! See their website www.ecologiadesign.com
The Judds’ round house. Long Creek Homestead
Photo Michael Judd
Pawpaws: Resilient, Delectable Natives
As a young girl, my friends and I enjoyed singing this folk tune: Where, oh where, is dear little Nellie? Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch. Sound familiar? At the time, I thought “pawpaw” was a silly made-up name for a fictitious tree. It was many, many years before I actually saw a living pawpaw tree and tasted its rather unusual fruit. Once I did, I was smitten. Read on to find out more about the “American Custard Apple.”
Pawpaw fruit on a pawpaw tree
What’s a pawpaw? The pawpaw tree, known as Asimina triloba in the scientific world, is classified as a deciduous tree with semi-tropical attributes. The pawpaw is an indigenous plant in 26 states in the eastern and midwestern U.S., including Virginia. This distinctive species, which belongs to the Annonaceae family, is an understory tree that typically grows to a height of 5-8 meters. It produces light green fruit called pawpaws, the largest edible native fruit grown in this country. The soft, golden flesh of this fruit is reminiscent of custard, and its unique flavor is a delicious combination of mango and banana. No wonder the lyrics of that folk song refer to children collecting this yummy fruit and placing them in the front pocket of their aprons: Pickin’ up pawpaws and puttin’ ‘em in your pocket. If your ears aren’t ringing yet, here’s a delightful version of that song.
Where will you find pawpaw trees? The pawpaw is often found near streambeds, rivers, and floodplains because of its preference for fertile, moist soil. It will also grow on hillsides and slopes, if the soil is rich and sufficiently deep and wet. When mature, the pawpaw tree can tolerate plenty of sun, but it’s a more common sight in the partial shade of hardwood forests. The pawpaw will not thrive in poor soil or areas with direct or excessive wind exposure. Pawpaw trees tend to grow in patches or thickets, due to clonal spreading that occurs when their root suckers extend outward from existing plants to form new trees. Given the right conditions, pawpaw trees multiply gradually, but prolifically. If well-established, they may slow down the growth of other dominant tree species, such as oaks and hickories.
How do you know it’s a pawpaw? The small to medium-sized pawpaw tree, shaped like a pyramid, is sometimes referred to as a shrub. The thin, bumpy bark of a pawpaw tree is grey with noticeable cracks and warts on its outer covering. When damaged or bruised, the bark exudes a foul odor, which may explain why many forest animals stay away from this tree. The dark green shiny leaves on a pawpaw are fairly large with an oblong shape: 25 cm long and 10 cm wide. Leaves are wider at their outer end and taper to a pronounced point where they connect to a branch. These are simple, alternate leaves with prominent veins and midrib arranged in a spiral-like pattern that droops downward, as if reaching toward the ground below. When fall arrives, pawpaw leaves turn a beautiful golden yellow color, which makes it easy to recognize them from afar.
The beautiful pawpaw blossom
Pawpaw blossoms along a branch
What about the flowers and fruit? Pawpaw flowers are deep burgundy at first and then turn a maroonish-brown color when fully mature. These small (diameter of 3-5 cm), perfect flowers (both male and female reproductive parts are present) with six petals and three sepals appear early in the springtime. Unlike the blossoms on many other trees, pawpaw flowers are not profuse and have a slightly unpleasant odor. Each flower has more than one ovary, so one flower can produce several pawpaws, which ripen in the fall. Pawpaw fruit resembles the shape of a mango, somewhat like a flattened oval covered in light green skin. As clumps of fruit grow and increase in size (up to 15 cm in length), their weight may cause sagging tree branches. When ready for consumption, the ever-softening pawpaws become yellowish and have dark spots on their skin. Inside the fruit, two rows of big black seeds are embedded in squishy, deep yellow pulp. Each pawpaw has 10-12 seeds, each one the size of a thumbnail.
Interior of a pawpaw showing large seeds
Not everyone likes pawpaws, but they definitely appeal to my taste buds. The creamy texture melts in your mouth as the fresh, tropical flavor is released, giving way to dreams of the Caribbean. Besides eating them raw, you can substitute pawpaws for bananas when baking, or process them for ice cream, a scrumptious treat! If you cook with pawpaws, use recipes that call for little or no heat because high temperatures can ruin the special taste of this fruit. By the way, pawpaws are high in nutritional value. Like bananas, oranges, and apples, they offer generous amounts of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and amino acids, but pawpaw fruit provide comparatively more protein. Pawpaws are also a good source of dietary fiber.
How do you cultivate pawpaws? Root suckers from a pawpaw patch can be used to start new trees, but the success rate is low. If seeds are used, they must be stratified (kept cold) for 3-4 months in a moist environment (e.g., with sphagnum moss). Field-planted seeds will not emerge until the following summer, and those plants may not produce flowers or fruit for another five years or more. For best luck with new pawpaw trees, buy container-grown seedlings (not bare roots) of recommended varieties, such as ‘Davis’, ‘Overleese’, ‘Prolific, ‘Sunflower’, or ‘Taylor’ from a reputable nursery. Spring is the time to plant container-grown seedlings.
A clump of ripening pawpaws
Pawpaw trees need fertile, well-drained, slightly acidic (pH 6-7) soil to thrive. Young trees should be spaced 2½ – 3 meters apart in rows that are at least 6 meters wide, so they will have ample room to grow and reproduce. The trunk of a pawpaw tree should be surrounded by a generous layer of mulch (straw or wood chips) for weed control and moisture retention. Remember not to let a young seedling dry out as it gets established in its new setting. To produce fruit, a pawpaw tree requires cross pollination from another unrelated pawpaw tree. Unfortunately, their foul odor keeps most bees away, so home gardeners often hand-pollinate their own trees.
Hurray for the pawpaw! It’s one of those rare plants that deer and rabbits avoid, mainly because of the somewhat smelly bark, twigs, leaves, and flowers. Birds, squirrels, foxes, and black bears do enjoy eating pawpaw fruit, but they are generally not destructive to the tree as a whole. Most insects steer clear of this tree, but it happens to be the only host plant for larvae of the stunning zebra swallowtail. If you love watching those butterflies, as I do, then this might be a great choice for your yard. In addition to its other winning characteristics, the pawpaw is relatively disease-free, so no chemicals are needed to keep it healthy. Promising new research also suggests that substances in pawpaw leaves and twigs might have anti-cancer properties. Learn more about this fascinating species at the Pawpaw Research Center, Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Project.