A Celebratory Pause For Pawpaws

Pawpaw 01Annona, Custard-Apple, Sugar-Apple, Soursop, Poor Man's Banana, Hoosier Banana, and Banangothese are just a few terms of endearment expressed by devotees of the humble pawpaw. The pawpaw plant, by any of its mouthwatering names, produces the largest edible fruit indigenous to North America.

Late summer is pawpaw season and in September they are at their peak. So for the next few weeks, thousands of connoisseurs throughout the United States will let their pawpaw passions run riot at events like the Pawpaw Festival in Albany, Ohio.

Way Down Yonder In The Pawpaw Patch

The botanical name of the pawpaw, Asimina triloba, isnt as alliterative as Soursop, but it describes a shrub found in 25 eastern states including North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. It grows as far north as Ontario, and as far west as Texas.

While it undoubtedly was a favorite treat among indigenous North Americans for thousands of years, the first official record of the pawpaw was made in 1541 by Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto. During one of his expeditions he reported Native Americans harvesting them near the Mississippi River.

Heres an interesting bit of pawpaw potpourri: Chilled pawpaws became a favorite dessert of U.S. Presidents Washington and Jefferson.

Picking Up Pawpaws...

One name, Banango, most closely approximates the banana-mango custardy consistency of this amazing fruit. The tropical taste is often described as a blend of pineapple, banana, mango, pear, papaya, and cantaloupe - a self-contained fruit salad!

One pawpaw can weigh as much as a pound, and may grow to half a foot in length. The largest ones look like mangos. On the inside there are usually two rows of seeds with 10 or 14 seeds in each row; and the brownish seeds are shaped like lima beans.

... Put 'Em In A Basket

Their sturdy appearance belies their fragility. Pawpaws have a short shelf-life of only two or three days at room temperature, or a week in the fridge. So long-term storage, such as canning, is not an option. Stocking them in grocery stores isnt practical either, but some farmers markets in the heart of pawpaw country carry them during this time of year.

Growing your own pawpaws may be a daunting option, but if your climate is right [zones four through eight are ideal], and your schedule of care is consistent, it will be worth the effort. And unlike some plants, pawpaws are virtually pest-free. You can order container plants from online nurseries and garden centers.

Pawpaws are packed with nutrients. Theyre high in fiber, unsaturated fats, and antioxidants; and are chock full of more protein than most fruits. Theyre also a healthy source of carbs and amino acids.

Foodies transform them into sorbets and ice creams, pies, parfaits, pancakes, juices and even wine. And theyre a great substitute for banana-based recipes.

From Little Pawpaw Lake in Michigan to Pawpaw Creek in Texas, the satisfied sighs of pawpaw lovers will resound throughout the land - at least for the next few weeks, anyway. Bon Appetit!

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