Love tropical fruits, but live pretty far outside the tropical zone? Keep an eye out for the good old “Appalachian Banana.” Indigenous to the temperate regions of North America, the pawpaw gained a quite foothold thanks to colonial fans of the fruits. Two such men were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who cultivated pawpaws throughout Virginia; there, you can still find the fruit on the edge of forests. Indeed, even Lewis and Clark sometimes subsisted on pawpaws during their transcontinental trek westward. Today, the fruits range across the subtropic and temperate zones of North America (like Virginia). Read on for some fun facts about this fantastic fruit.
To start, contrary to even what you’ve read so far in this article, pawpaws are not *actually* a fruit, though folks usually reference them as such. Technically, pawpaws are simply a massive berry. The pawpaw tree itself usually ranges from six to 12 yards high, and can start bearing fruit at anywhere from four to eight years. Leaves are oblong, usually 6 to 12 inches long and 1.5 to 4 inches wide. The oval-shaped pawpaws themselves start green, and slowly ripen to an orange-yellow. Inside, they have a custard-like consistency, surrounding a center full of large, spicy black seeds.
While you can eat a green pawpaw, you had best cook it first. Green pawpaws are dangerously high in latex, and should not be eaten raw. Cooked however, they are just fine, though personally I dislike the taste. Of course, if you have a little patience, the ripe fruit can be consumed right off the tree. While you can eat straight through the skin, it will make the fruit a tad more bitter. In my opinion, it’s best to peel the pawpaw before consuming the delicious interior. Speaking of which, the flavor is similar to a banana, combined with more citrusy tropical fruit like mango, or pineapple.
As far as nutrition goes, pawpaws are high in quite a few things. As is true for most citrus plants, pawpaws are very high in vitamin C, but they’ve got a few other goodies up their sleeves as well. The fruit is also full of magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. They’re similarly a good source of potassium, several essential amino acids, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. That’s quite a lot for a little fruit, and puts it roughly on par with bananas, apples and oranges for nutrition.
Sound like a flavorful fruit you may be interested in? Take a look around on your next hike. If you’re in the subtropics (think, on latitude with the Florida panhandle) many pawpaws are already ripe, and typically have been since mid-August. If you’re a further north, chances are you have another week or so, as they won’t ripen until late September or early October. Once you pick it, make sure you eat it quick! One reason you don’t tend to see pawpaws for sale commercially, is they don’t keep well. Generally if you wait more than a few days, the fruit will spoil. Good luck out there, happy foraging and don’t forget, with pawpaws, tempus fugit.
A humble homesteader based in an undisclosed location, Lars Drecker splits his time between tending his little slice of self-sustaining heaven, and bothering his neighbors to do his work for him. This is mainly the fault of a debilitating predilection for fishing, hunting, camping and all other things outdoors. When not engaged in any of the above activities, you can normally find him broken down on the side of the road, in some piece of junk he just “fixed-up.”