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Science And Nature

Pawpaws are Americas hidden edible treasure. Heres how exactly to pick them.

Published August 22, 2022

11 min read

Externally, a pawpaw appears like a green mango. But inside, youll find golden, custard-like flesh cradling glossy, dark seeds. It tastes such as a banana crossed with pineapple and mango, with notes of vanilla, plus some say, cantaloupe. Its tropical flavors seem at odds using its native soil: the temperate forests of THE UNITED STATES.

Contrary to popular belief, the delicious pawpaw is really as American as apple pie and baseball. Indigenous communities have already been cultivating it a long time before its first written documentation, as soon as 1541. In 1916, agriculturalists believed pawpaw crops were probably to succeed before other American favorites, including blueberries and cranberries. But somewhere on the way, the pawpaw disappeared from the American consciousness.

The issue, experts say, is that both fruits picking season and shelf life are unfortunately short. Pawpaw trees bear fruit for no more than six weeks in late summer, the fruit bruises easily and, after picking, only lasts several daysabout weekly, refrigeratedpresenting significant commercial challenges.

Fortunately that the continents largest edible fruit (sometimes 6 inches long or longer) hasnt disappeared from the American landscape. Actually, if you wish to go trying to find pawpaw, nows enough time to accomplish it. You can get the fruit growing in the open from late August to mid-October, from the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest, and also in urban settings including Washington, D.C.

In all probability, you won’t find pawpaw at your supermarket and, although you will probably find pawpaw at an area farmers market, your very best bet could be to pluck one fresh from the tree. Heres what you ought to know to choose an ideal pawpaw.

Pawpaw particulars

Culinary historians speculate that the pawpaw found its way to THE UNITED STATES thousands of years back, alongside large animals migrating north.

For eastern Native American tribes, the pawpaw had been a harvest staple. Sean Sherman, co-owner of The Sioux Chefin Minneapolis and founder of UNITED STATES Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS), says the pawpaws disappearance is closely linked to shameful treatment of Native communities.

While foodies may say the pawpaw is undergoing a renaissance, Sherman says its a really reclamation of long-buried culinary culture that has been lost due to the relocation and genocide of Indigenous peoples in THE UNITED STATES.

Sherman says a lot of the native pawpaw growth was lost during colonial deforestation to create method for farming. However, pawpaw that survived throughout Appalachia did become section of that regions culinary history.

Cultivating pawpaw is really a key section of study forKirk Pomper, who heads up the Kentucky State University (KYSU) pawpaw research program. He helps teach farmers to cultivate pawpaw in orchards, and conducts scientific research to help make the pawpaw a far more commercial crop. Given that doesnt imply that were attempting to make it function as next banana or apple, says Pomper, nonetheless it does mean breeding better tasting types of the fruit.

Adjusting for taste is essential, says Sheri Crabtree, a horticulture research and extension associate at KYSU, because some wild pawpaw might have bitter or other off flavors; they may be turpentine-y or simply bland, she says. We wish to have even more unique flavors among cultivars, like some varieties have a far more pronounced melon, coconut, or pineapple flavor.

Neal Peterson, whos been studying the pawpaw since he first discovered them in West Virginia in the first 1970s, is really a breeder of among the best new varieties. Peterson, who studied plant genetics and agricultural economics, spent decades growing, testing, and tasting the fruit at the University of Maryland, breeding two of the greatest varieties: the Susquehanna and the Shenandoah.

Pawpaw varieties are assessed on the flavor, yield, fruit size, texture, and disease resistance, Crabtree says. She adds that the very best varieties will be high yield trees that create a pawpaw with firmness and/or creaminess thats not watery, mushy, or gritty in addition to a lower percentage of seeds.

Trying to find pawpaw

Native to 26 states, pawpaw are available across the East Coast between Ontario, Canada, and northern Florida west to Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Nebraska, Kansas, and also Texas.

Still, a lot of people haven’t heard about the fruit. Despite making his Paw Paw Lemonade nearly 30 minutes from the city of Paw Paw, West Virginia, Tom Helmick says about 60 percent of his customers haven’t any prior understanding of the fruit. At the upcoming 24th annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival, which draws 10,000 people and is among at the very least 13 pawpaw festivals held each fall, he expects another response. Helmick will undoubtedly be on the list of vendors selling from pawpaw ice creams and cakes to pawpaw jams and beer.

The pawpaw in addition has found a house on seasonal restaurant menus from coast to coast. Fascination with local foods and sustainably grown foods, the slow food movement, and greater consumer acceptance of the fruit, are key to upping the selling point of the pawpaw, says Crabtree.

When chef Pepe Moncayo of D.C.s Cranes delivers pawpaw (this past year, fermented pawpaw in a kombucha sauce served with pink snapper), he says 95 percent of his guests ask what it really is. So he added just a little show and-tell. We introduce the dish, verbally, so when eyebrows frown, well bring a bit of the fruit and suggest to them, says Moncayo.

Chef William Dissen, who has three restaurants in NEW YORK, including THE MARKETPLACE Place in Asheville uses pawpaw when its in season for ice creams, vinegars, pies, barbecue sauces, and cakes. Because its very volatile and loses flavor and vibrancy quickly when cooked, Allison Sesnovich, a pastry chef at Mabel Gray beyond Detroit, sticks to creations that dont require heat, like her pawnoffee tart, a play on the British banoffee that is, classically, a pie with bananas, cream, and caramel.

In the event that you actually want to get wild with pawpaw, check out Hocking Hills, Ohio, and the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls. At the hotel restaurant, chef Matt Rapposelli serves pawpaw cocktails, dressings, marinades and cheesecake, as the onsite spa offers pawpaw facials.

In the D.C. area, pawpaw trees are abundantlook out for the understory growths of trees 15 to 30 feet high, with large, pointed oval leaves. In the event that you dont desire to placed on your hiking shoes, youll see them in the center of the District in the gardens round the National Museum of the American Indian or the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Just understand that any fruit you might see growing isn’t for picking, simply for peeping.

For a pawpaw harvest, hit a sunlit trail close to the popular C&O Canal, where in fact the National Park Service permits picking right up to a half gallon of pawpaw fruit each day for personal use. A National Historical Park, the canal includes a 184.5-mile towpath wending its way next to the Potomac River, near waterfalls and rapids, and beside waterways where pawpaw thrive.

Farms and orchards where one can pick or buy fresh pawpaw


Bloomington Community Orchard: A volunteer-run orchard where visitors can pick their very own pawpaw as designed for free.


Two Boots Farm: Pawpaw are for sale to purchase through the month of September. Visit on Instagram@twobootsfarm for schedule updates.


Robsons Farm: Pick your personal or buy at the farm Thursday-Sunday starting in early September. The farm is debuting free Pawpaw Walks, including tips about how to know when each variety is ripe for picking.


Off The Beathen Path Nursery: The nursery sells pawpaw tree seedlings and also pawpaw fruit. For picking in the open, the nursery recommends an instant trip later on toTurkey Hill Trail.

Threefold Farm: The farms 400 pawpaw trees include a few of the varieties considered the very best, including Susquehanna, Shenandoah and Atwood. Available (however, not picking) Saturdays in September. Availability updates at@threefoldfarm on Instagram.


Mackintosh Fruit Farm: Pick your personal or buy at the farm through the month of September only.

Washington, D.C.

Through the month of September, Two Boots Farm in Hampstead, Maryland, sells its pawpaw at the Takoma Park Farmers Market on Sept. 11 and Sept. 18 and at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market, Sept. 18 and Sept. 25. The farm will undoubtedly be selling pawpaw through the entire month of September at theBaltimore Farmers Market.

Look for a set of pawpaw festivals here.

Cari Shane is really a journalist located in Washington, D.C. You will discover her on Twitter.

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