Pawpaw season
September 14, 2016 4:17 PM   Subscribe

Pawpaws, America's best secret fruit.

Ignoring the gourds (which are botanically fruits but culinary vegetables), the pawpaw is North America's largest native fruit. A staple [pdf] of Native Americans and the Lewis and Clark expedition, loved by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, they are now mostly forgotten, ready to be rediscovered.

Previously-ish.
posted by peeedro (63 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
I remember that my elementary school's music book had a song called "Pickin' Paw-Paws in the Paw-Paw Patch."

For whatever the hell that's worth.
posted by jonmc at 4:29 PM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


People have been trying to turn paw-paws into a commercial fruit for at least the last couple of decades, but it hasn't quite happened despite the new varieties. I actually got my dad started on paw-paw husbandry; found a local nursery that had a few saplings for their own use but were willing to spare me a couple. He's got a small orchard at his retirement home in the mountains.

I think it's partially because they are such a variable fruit. Usually a bit mango-y, but I've had some that were the most perfect vanilla-caramel custard, like dessert in a green jacket.
posted by tavella at 4:40 PM on September 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


They are wonderful, but my experience is that the damn raccoons get them before you can pick them!

I mean, you are watching them ripen... almost... almost... Oh man! I'm going to pick it tomorrow! It's gonna be so good!

Wah wah waaaah
posted by Tchad at 4:42 PM on September 14, 2016 [14 favorites]


Timely! We just ate our first paw-paws of the season off our backyard trees last night!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:49 PM on September 14, 2016


I found out that perhaps the only thing I'm allergic to is pawpaws. Ate them and then had my hands and feet break out in hives.

Not really something I have to worry about.
posted by Ferreous at 4:59 PM on September 14, 2016


Yey! Indiana Banana!
posted by leotrotsky at 5:02 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Neat. I've somehow never heard of these, though it seems that I now live in a place where they grow. Time to find some.

And, maybe after I've found and consumed a few, it will be possible to think of the name without hearing the voice of Cheryl Trykv reading Paw Paw for Jesus. Maybe.
posted by eotvos at 5:03 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


My little pawpaws from Oikos finally took off this summer! The first two years, they were a bit spindly, but these last few months? Pretty green leaves and lots of them. I am hopeful that they'll bear, and that I'll get to sample before the damn raccoons do...
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:04 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


My cat has pawpaws.

Apparently these grow around where I live, as does ginger. I've always been sort of interested in urban foraging, maybe I'll keep my eyes out for them.
posted by Neronomius at 5:11 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Most of my life, when I saw the word in a book or something, I assumed it was somebody anglicizing "papaya."
posted by penduluum at 5:12 PM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've had them both raw and cooked. BEWARE novice or first time pawpaw eaters! They can have a laxative effect on a significant percentage of people and even slightly unripe ones can give you some cramps.
If you are on a hike and find some, you've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Ok, Dirty Harry aside, give them a try but be within 15 minutes of a toilet or be prepared to leave no trace if you are in the wild.
posted by Muncle at 5:13 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here is another, called the Maypop, they grew on my grandparents farm in Northwestern Alabama. They are passion fruit. The flowers were awe inspiring when I would come across them in the pasture.
posted by Oyéah at 5:23 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


May apples though, those are the choice forgotten fruit. Poisonous if not ripe enough? YES PLEASE!
posted by Ferreous at 5:34 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I grew up in Ottawa, which is decidedly not pawpaw country, and have never seen one in the flesh, but for some reason my mom had one of those recipe cutting boards that was pawpaw themed. I forget what the recipe was actually for.

I looked on the googles to see if a picture of it was immortalized anywhere, but all I got was pictures of papayas.
posted by quaking fajita at 5:50 PM on September 14, 2016


Interesting. In Vanuatu they call papayas pawpaws. And, despite being plentiful (those stupid things grow like weeds) they always taste like gym socks to me.
posted by orrnyereg at 5:56 PM on September 14, 2016


I found out that perhaps the only thing I'm allergic to is pawpaws. Ate them and then had my hands and feet break out in hives.

You're not the only one. I have a hiking buddy who is also allergic to them, he breaks out in a rash from skin contact with leaves or bark. He's never eaten the fruit as he's learned it's a plant to avoid for him.
posted by peeedro at 5:58 PM on September 14, 2016


OK, now I want this fruit very much. Yesterday, and many yesterdays prior to this most recent yesterday, I'd given pawpaws no notice. I'm pretty sure I didn't know they existed. Now? I crave this most sincerely, even with Muncle's dire (but helpful, should I ever encounter a pawpaw) laxative warning. The Pacific NW is not pawpaw friendly, unfortunately, but still. Everything has its price (she says, laughing fiendishly while rubbing her hands together).
posted by but no cigar at 5:59 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was confused by this post because I (NZer) have always used "pawpaw" and "papaya" interchangeably. So I went and looked it up. It turns out that the American pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is unrelated to what the rest of the world calls pawpaw/papaya (Carica papaya).
posted by lollusc at 6:05 PM on September 14, 2016 [11 favorites]


The only place growing them in Rhode Island is estimating Oct. 15. So hard to wait!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:20 PM on September 14, 2016


I've never had pawpaw before which is kind of ironic in a way. I don't think it's plentiful 'round these parts. The word also has completely different meaning to me. Growing up paw paw is what we called my late punctual grandfather. I wonder if my paw paw ever had a pawpaw...

Sorry to go off rail. Seeing this post took me back to the day I first discovered MeFi and never looked back. Thanks for having me.
posted by guiseroom at 6:26 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Lewis and Clark expedition apparently had to travel 150 miles on "one buisket per man" plus pawpaws, but "the party appear perfectly contented and tell us that they can live very well on the papaws," which is a pretty good recommendation. Move over, lembas.
posted by ostro at 6:27 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Pacific NW is not pawpaw friendly, unfortunately, but still.

The Wikipedia article (FPP first link) makes it sound like people might be giving it a try:
In recent years, cultivation of pawpaws for fruit production has attracted renewed interest, particularly among organic growers, as a native fruit with few to no pests, successfully grown without pesticides. The commercial cultivation and harvesting of pawpaws is strong in southeastern Ohio[19] and also being explored in Kentucky[3] and Maryland,[15] as well as various areas outside the species' native range, including California,[14] the Pacific Northwest.,[14] and Massachusetts[20]
posted by jamjam at 6:32 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yey! Indiana Banana!

So the inspiration for this post was me shaking trees in the park near my parents house to get some ripe fruit to take to them. I was interrupted by people who were curious about what I was doing and (of course) wanted to be assured that the fruit was not poisonous. So I did my best at being a amateur naturalist and talked about the tree, it's identification and usual habitat. There was some not-ready-yet pawpaw fruit up in the tree that I pointed to, and this dude said, "it looks like truck nuts, big green truck nuts." And sure enough, he's right.

Indiana Banana, big green truck nuts, whatever you want to call it.
posted by peeedro at 6:54 PM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


At some point years ago I was gifted an array of odd small batch american produce flavored gourmet ice creams (or maybe it was frozen custards? gelato? same dif) and it included a pumpkin flavor which I devoured, a prickly pear flavor which was nearly flavorless but incredibly bright pink, and a pawpaw flavor which completely mystified me. It tasted... like banana?? But absolutely not banana at all? How could I, a person who reads thick tomes about the history of agriculture for funsies, not have heard of this pawpaw fruit?

Anyway, that was my only taste of pawpaw and it was weird but now that I've been reminded I just spent fifteen minutes trying to track down that ice cream and can't find it. I don't really like ice cream so I'm not too upset, except that since I'm in Seattle I doubt I'll be able to find fresh pawpaws to try any time soon.
posted by Mizu at 6:57 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Aw, pawpaws! I saw some recently at the botanical garden here in California (in the "midatlantic US" section of the park) and felt a little homesick for Maryland, my Maryland.
posted by teponaztli at 7:07 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the Midwest and am surprised I've never even heard of these. And I have a good friend from Paw Paw. Huh. Thanks for the post!
posted by persona au gratin at 7:22 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Anyway, that was my only taste of pawpaw and it was weird but now that I've been reminded I just spent fifteen minutes trying to track down that ice cream and can't find it.

Might've been from Zingerman's, which offers/has offered in the past a seasonal pawpaw gelato.
posted by praemunire at 7:32 PM on September 14, 2016


I remember that my elementary school's music book had a song called "Pickin' Paw-Paws in the Paw-Paw Patch."

A now-retired popular band from where I hail did a reworking of that song years ago that's damn good if you like hillbilly.

On the album it's preceded by this old recording of their grandfather telling a story from his childhood about an old man named Bone Terry and a paw paw patch.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:34 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


The tricky bit about growing paw paws is that they have a long, thick taproot and so don't transplant well after a year or so, so you have to grow them ALMOST from seed (whereas most fruit trees you grow at home are a few years old when you transplant them). Then they take a few years to get big enough to bear fruit, and they prefer to be well-shaded as baby trees but in the sun when older.

We planted ours when our neighbor said, "Looks like I'm going to have to have that tree down in a year or two." Rushed right out for baby paw paws, they got two years in the shade, and then the neighbor's tree came down, leaving them a nice sunny spot. I also suggest putting some wire fence rings around them because DAMN those are some weedy looking trees when they're babies. But if you live in paw paw country, they're not very picky trees once you've got them in.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:37 PM on September 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


The Pacific NW is not pawpaw friendly

My mothers' tree at about 150m elevation on the Oly peninsula came into bearing at five years? Six? Raintree sells them.
posted by clew at 7:37 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Now I'm perplexed because I'm pretty sure she only has the one but the web says they're generally self-infertile.
posted by clew at 7:39 PM on September 14, 2016


I've lived my whole life in prime paw paw country and never et one. We're planning trees for the backyard and may have to try this.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:48 PM on September 14, 2016


Well, I happily stand corrected! Thanks clew and jam jam. The article and map suggested it wasn't a NW thing, but now I see pawpaws within my grasp. I'm already making plans.
posted by but no cigar at 7:54 PM on September 14, 2016


All I know about pawpaws, I learned from Baloo:
Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw
But you don't need to use the claw
When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw
Have I given you a clue?
posted by artychoke at 7:59 PM on September 14, 2016 [11 favorites]


Man, I came here to post exactly that lyric artychoke. Well done.
posted by Myca at 8:58 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Apparently Zebra Swallowtails are into them, and we're looking at a decent harvest over the next few weeks if you're in the Mid-Atlantic
posted by aspersioncast at 9:16 PM on September 14, 2016


Not actually about pawpaws per say "The pawpaw negro blowtorch" a song by Brian Eno.
posted by boilermonster at 9:53 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm amazed that you can eat these things. When I was a kid in grammar school back in the midwest (40s and 50s), we threw these things at each other. Like a snow ball fight when it was still warm. Never dreamed they could taste good.
posted by charlesminus at 9:57 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]



So the inspiration for this post was me shaking trees in the park near my parents house to get some ripe fruit to take to them.


Oh yes, a fellow eater of encountered fruit. I am kind of surprised I have never eaten paw-paws, considering I will eat every other fruit I chance upon while walking about - mulberries, raspberries, apples, street facing fence grapes. I will even occasionally hunker down and pick some wood sorrel and munch on that, li'l sour flowers.

Perhaps I have never been in the right place at the right time, but now I know, and I will be that person who lags behind saying "wait, hang on just a minute," or maybe just "mmmph!"
posted by louche mustachio at 10:22 PM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


This is weird. My hometown is called Paw Paw, and I have never eaten one.
posted by Dokterrock at 10:37 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


So apparently there's a couple places that sell mail order pawpaw fruit. They're not cheap but if you live out of their growing region & gotta try/have some, here you go. I'm mulling it over myself, never having heard of them until today. Earthy Delights & Integration Acres.
posted by scalefree at 10:38 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


So I probably couldn't grow a pawpaw tree in Portland? Any chance of somehow getting a hookup and selling them at farmers markets? What about beer?
posted by gucci mane at 11:10 PM on September 14, 2016


Another entry for the "whatever the hell that's worth category" started by jonmc:

I have a vague childhood memory of hearing my grandfather, aka "Pa Pa" (pronounced like the fruit), who passed before I turned 4, singing a song that included the line "way down yonder in the paw paw patch", which I'm assuming is from "Pickin' Paw-Paws in the Paw-Paw Patch."

Apparently, kids were more easily entertained back then.
posted by she's not there at 4:21 AM on September 15, 2016


Pawpaws are quite common down here in South Africa, enough so that they are used in the family friendly phrase "when the pawpaw hits the fan".
posted by PenDevil at 4:35 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Pickin' paw paws with my mama
posted by ChuraChura at 4:45 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


For all y'all planning to try them: don't eat (or bite or chew) the seeds. They won't kill you but you won't be happy. Also, if you're planning to get a tree, they kind of stink when they flower.
posted by dilettante at 4:55 AM on September 15, 2016


Growing up I had several friends with pawpaw trees in their backyards, but I had not a clue that they were edible. I feel like I missed out!
posted by Gordafarin at 6:10 AM on September 15, 2016


I picked 2 or 3 last week from the outlet side of the dams around the BMPs in our neighborhood. They aren't bad, but the big seeds and slightly bitter skin can be a turnoff. I imagine cooked up in a custard or ice cream would really bring out the sweetness in the fruit.
posted by k5.user at 6:23 AM on September 15, 2016


My elementary school's music teacher taught us that song too.
posted by brujita at 6:31 AM on September 15, 2016


I've never had one, but the description sounds a little bit like a guava. Can someone confirm or deny?

I had heard of them, but in central/south Texas, I've never seen a pawpaw. I'd love to eat one though!
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:15 AM on September 15, 2016


An very good, recent book on the subject: Pawpaw: In Search of America's Forgotten Fruit by Andrew Moore

My, brother, a naturalist, planted a sapling in my mother's yard years ago and it puts out lots of fruit. As mentioned above, you've got to be diligent in picking because the neighborhood wildlife (raccons, opossums, squirrels) will take them as soon as they're ripe.

I attempted to transplant three small saplings from her yard to mine this spring. Unfortunately, they were all root suckers - not seedlings - with no proper tap root. Only one is still alive, but it appears to have rooted well and will make it.
posted by zakur at 7:24 AM on September 15, 2016


When I was a child, my parents bought a plot of land in a nearby East Tennessee county. The land had a creek running through it, caves, and tons and tons of pawpaws and wild roses everywhere. The plan was to eventually build a house there and they eventually did it. It only took them 15 years to build the house and get moved in, which by then I was in college.

In order to get the land habitable, my parents spent endless weekends there, clearing brush, planting gardens, digging basements, and all the other bits of building your home with your own two hands. As a result, my childhood was split between the small town we lived in, my grandmother's farm, and the creek. Some days I just wanted to stay home and read, but Dad would tell me, "Load up. We're heading to the creek." I would sigh and be annoyed but go anyway. Finally Dad put up a hammock in the pawpaw grove by the waterfalls on the creek and I suddenly became way more interested in going down to the creek. There is little in life that is better than laying in a hammock in a naturally appearing pawpaw orchard next to the creek and reading whatever kid novel I was into while munching on a pawpaw. It was like a perfect little fairy land, the creek and falls kept the air cool, the pawpaw trees' broad leaves let in just enough sunlight to read by, and with the exception of the random annoyed squirrel or raccoon, the wildlife left me alone.

Just thinking about it makes me a little misty, especially because the house and land are up for sale now. But hopefully, some other kid can fall in a creek, eat pawpaws, get stuck in a cave, and grow up like a hoodlum as well.
posted by teleri025 at 8:45 AM on September 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


Pawpaws are related to the soursop and the world's most wonderful fruit, the cherimoya. They cousins are delicious, the pawpaw not so much.

All of them contain https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annonacin which is strongly believed to be the cause of the very elevated incidence of atypical Parkinson's in the areas where consumption is high.

The jury is still out - nobody doubts that annonacin is neurotoxic except for the kooks who try and sell it Laetrile-style as a cancer cure - but probably high consumption isn't looking like a great idea.
posted by rr at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


They're in a family with cherimoyas, sweet sops, sour sops, custard apples, and pond apples. I was checking if they were in with the jack fruits, but no, they are from a single flower, not like the mulberry family.
posted by Oyéah at 8:58 AM on September 15, 2016


SW MI, walking in the woods in middle school/high school, we used to find them and eat them. Haven't had one in years. But I was always into that part of nature - the "What's safe/good to eat?" bit. It leads to fun things like the time I found wintergreen on a Boy Scout trip and the other kid wouldn't try the leaves or berries because he was positive I was about to die of poison... his loss. I enjoyed them.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:56 AM on September 15, 2016


Marylanders!

Paw Paw Festival this weekend (9/17) in Frederick!
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:34 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ohioans!

Ohio Pawpaw Festival this weekend (9/16-18) in Albany.
posted by zakur at 11:48 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Artist and (serious) birder Julie Zickefoose is mad about pawpaws.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:44 PM on September 15, 2016


Having had both pawpaws and loquats, I strongly disagree that pawpaws are Amercia's best secret fruit. Blandest, definitely. Loquats, on the other hand? Delish!
posted by MsMolly at 12:24 PM on September 17, 2016


Ok, never let it be said that Metafilter is not practically useful.

Today I went to my local arboretum and used their handy online plant finder to locate their grove of pawpaw trees. The season seems to be mostly over here, but just when I was starting to wonder whether maybe these trees were infertile or something, I noticed something on the ground that looked like a small, severely underripe mango.

Reader, I ate it.

It was tasty.
posted by ostro at 12:46 PM on September 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


I just contacted a local gardener about it, and she gave me the last pawpaw of the season! She also gave me a big bag of pawpaw pulp, so I may try making a custard or ice cream with it!
posted by Greg Nog at 5:47 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


We just ate the fruit! It was SO GOOD! The strongest flavor was that of an ovverripe cavendish banana, with just the barest hint of the artificial-banana flavor that apparently comes from a gros michel banana. Secondary to that was the intensely perfumey flavor of a particularly strong mango, with the perfumeyness lingering like I just opened up a fashion magazine full of perfume samples. And under all of it was the barest hint of vulva, which is also quite nice. I liked it a lot!

We've still got the bag of pulp in the fridge, and I'm excited to turn it into an ice cream!
posted by Greg Nog at 5:11 PM on September 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


My husband made waffles with pawpaw in the batter this morning. I slept through it but the kids were SO EXCITED about having eaten the best waffles ever that apparently they were very good!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:12 PM on September 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


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