America’s Delicious Secret: the Pawpaw Fruit
Which fruits native to the Americas do you know? Many will name papaya, pineapple, prickly pear, or persimmon. But what about the largest of them – the pawpaw? Most have never even heard of such a fruit. But this seems to be changing – soon we might witness a real pawpaw craze!
The pawpaw fruit (Asiminia triloba), also known as poor man’s banana or Quaker delight, is indeed the largest fruit indigenous to North America – a pawpaw can weigh up to 2 pounds (0.5kg)! It originates from the eastern seaboard of the US, but ancient American Indians spread the pawpaw all the way to the Great Lakes and the Mexican Gulf. The tree looks a bit tropical but is actually quite hardy – it requires cold in winter and can survive temperatures well below zero.
Once the first Europeans arrived, they started cutting down forests to make room for wheat fields, destroying most paw paw trees in the process. Settlers did eat pawpaws, though: George Washington liked them, and Thomas Jefferson even grew them in his garden. But once Eurasian fruits like apples and pears became established in the US, the pawpaw faded into obscurity… until very recently!
A delicious surprise
A pawpaw fruit is blackish-green and unassuming on the outside, but its yellow pulp tastes like something in between a banana and a mango. It is best eaten straight from the tree, but can also be made into puddings, custard, ice cream, and cakes (you can find some recipes here). Pawpaw ripens in September and is found most easily in a forest (if you live in an area where it grows naturally, that is). Alternatively, it is possible to buy it frozen online.
If pawpaw is so delicious, why don’t you see it in supermarkets? The main reason is that it doesn’t store well: ripe fruit are very easily bruised and hard to transport, while those picked green do not ripen well off the tree. Another reason is that there is still no true cultivation of pawpaws – across the US, there are only a handful plantations. Though this may change – perhaps in the near future new cultivars will be created, faster-growing and with more robust fruit.
The time of the pawpaw has come
Like so many indigineous edible plants, pawpaw is going through a veritable renaissance among the foodie and hipster crowd (it is even called hipster’s banana sometimes). The 19th Ohio pawpaw festival took place just last week – this annual event offers pawpaw tastings, cooking competitions, music, and pawpaw beer. Speaking of beer, it can be a great introduction to the fruit – it’s all craft and seasonal, of course, and is worth seeking out. Pawpaws can be bought at farmers’ markets in season, but they are expensive at around 15 dollars per pound. So what if you cannot find or afford them? You don’t have to miss out – just plant one!
Grow your own pawpaw
Quite a few plantations in the US now offer small pawpaw trees adapted for different climate zones. They grow somewhat slowly but will do well in most temperate areas and will bear first fruit in 2-3 years. Remember that you need at least two trees to get fruit – pawpaws don’t self-pollinate!
Forage for pawpaws in the forest, buy them from a farmer, order frozen pulp online, or plant your own – whichever you choose, now is the best time to make your acquaintance with this delicious and little-known fruit!