Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nature Notes: Paw Paw

Fall is paw paw season!  So I thought I'd tell you the story of my favorite native fruit...

It was the tropical fruity smell that caught our attention first.  My Maryland hiking partner and I were hiking up past Weaverton Cliffs on the AT in MD one fall.   It took us a while to find the source of the wonderful fragrance.  When we finally found the smooth, oblong fruits with dappled yellow-green skin on the ground, we had no idea what they were.  I brought a few home, and they ripened on my dresser.  Cutting the fruits open revealed several dark, fava-bean shaped seeds.  The flesh was bright yellow, juicy, and tasted like a cross between a banana and a mango.

A bit of research showed they were pawpaw, one of the few native fruits in the eastern US.  They are delicious raw and in pudding, and make marvelous ice cream. 

Why aren't pawpaw lining the shelves in supermarkets, a staple in kid's lunches, and served for dessert in restaurants?  I mean, this fruit is WAY tastier than bananas and it's AMERICAN. 

It turns out that they don't have a long shelf-life and are hard to transport.  But I just think people just don't know about them.  I mean, I can't imagine that with some selective breeding or genetic engineering...  I also can't figure out why everyone doesn't grow them in their yards-- then there's no need for transport.  But until I get my own garden, I search the forests and river valleys on all my hikes for the pawpaw tree, and I eagerly anticipate paw paw season (Sept. and early October).

Since moving to Georgia, I've searched high and low for pawpaws.  I still haven't found fruits yet, but I finally found a grove of the small trees up in the Cohuttas on the trail to Jack's River falls.  I've read that they are also located at Warwoman Dell.  I can't seem to time my hikes right to find ripe fruits though.  But around September and October, I keep my eyes peeled and sniff the air expectantly, because you never know what might turn up.
Cross-section of a pawpaw fruit

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