What’s a pawpaw? Most old-timers know. Most youngsters never heard of it, or maybe they have heard of PawPaw, Michigan.
The pawpaw is a tropical-like fruit that grows in the wild. Several communities and a number of lakes have been named after it, and one town in Pennsylvania even has a pawpaw festival.
Many old-timers (I’m one) remember a song about a pawpaw patch. It seemed everyone learned it. The catchy little tune apparently game from the Appalachian mountains, and eventually spread elsewhere.
“Where oh where is pretty little Susie?”, began the tune.
“Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ‘em in a basket.”
“Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.
Pawpaw trees usually are found in groves and are relatively small. The trees are no larger than two or three inches in diameter and don’t grow more than 20 to 25-feet tall. The bark is gray and smooth. There aren’t many lower limbs, but upper limbs usually produce a canopy effect.
The pawpaw fruit normally is less than five inches long and an inch-and-a-half to two inches in diameter. Early in the season, it is green in color and later turns more yellow and often has black spots. Inside are usually found large, dark brown seeds.
The fruit is called by many names besides pawpaw. It is called American custard banana, West Virginia banana, Indiana banana, and probably a dozen other names.
As far as i know, you can’t buy the fruit in stores, however it may be found at a few festivals or farmer’s markets. The trees now may be purchased from nurseries, and in the future the pulp or fruit may become available commercially.
Pawpaw fruits are said to be rich in minerals, including magnesium, copper, zinc, potassium and iron. It also contains Vitamin C.
The pulp may be eaten raw, made into ice cream, or made into pie filling and custard. My outdoor writer friend Bill Scifres used the fruit to make a tasty white wine.
While many people today may never have heard of the pawpaw, it has quite a history.
President Thomas Jefferson had pawpaws at Monticello. And when he was minister to France, he for some reason had pawpaw seeds shipped over to friends there.
And, according to journal records, Lewis and Clark wrote that they were quite fond of the pawpaw. Once during their expedition, they relied upon pawpaws growing along the way when other provisions ran low.
Some cooks make a custard out of yellow, sweet fruit.
A recipe suggests seeding them, mash them, add milk, a little sugar, an egg and some allspice. Pour the batter into custard cups and set those in a bread pan with some water in the bottom of the pan. Bake at a medium heat. Stick a toothpick in, and when it comes up clean it’s done.
The pawpaw is sensitive to ultraviolet light, thus, paw paw seedlings may not grow back after forests have been clear cut, and there are very few virgin forests left in the United States.
Unless you know where a pawpaw patch or grove is located, these days they are hard to find. You may stumble upon them when hunting. Doyle Coultas and I found a patch in Breckenridge County one year, but in the following years someone always found and harvested the fruit before we could pick it.
Bill Scifres in the fall always carried mesh type potato sacks with him in the event he happened upon a pawpaw grove.
If you come across pawpaws in the fall, give them a try.