Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Paw Paw Potential

This item came as a complete surprise to me. It must not like the local biome I grew up in. It turns out that it is easy to work with and we just have not. Perhaps this is because it is somewhat like a papaya. That too offers initial difficulties in terms of convenient preservation and the like. Yet as I learned a long time ago, we need to simply get serious about it and accept some initial failure.

They apparently need to go skin black like a banana to achieve full ripeness and I am sure that this is off putting to most. Yet is also reminded just how much can be done with a banana. We have learned to freeze a fully ripened banana. The resulting product is easily incorporated in shakes.

In fact six such bananas and a good quality soy milk to fill up the blender produces a satisfying shake. Another banana will make it thicker and two will make it nearly solid.

The real surprise though, is that if it is poured into a container and brought up to boiling point in the microwave, on cooling it will set into a caramel colored solid pudding that will last a long time without oxidizing. Notice how we have gone from yuck to pretty damn good. I thank my friend David for this input.

If the paw paw behaves as well we may even have another pudding. In fact the above is suggestive of a line of useful commercial products that need no starch or eggs.

The Next Superfruit Growing in Your Backyard

Pawpaw trees produce the largest edible fruit native to North America, and they're perfect for backyard gardeners.


They may be funny-looking, but pawpaws are high in iron, calcium and antioxidants—and they can grow just about anywhere

Unless you live in Hawaii, it's unlikely you'll ever find a local banana, or a local mango, or any other tropical fruit grown within 200 miles of where you live. But if you live in Indiana or pretty much anywhere else in the mainland U.S. right about now, you'd be able to sample a "Hoosier banana," aka the "poor man's banana," aka the "prairie banana," aka the pawpaw.

The largest edible fruit native to North America, the pawpaw will grow pretty much anywhere, although it does best in the Northeast and the Midwest, says Ken Asmus, owner of Oikos Tree Crops, a Kalamazoo, Michigan–based nursery that sells pawpaw tree seedlings. Their fruit ripens around the end of August and lasts until mid-October, but Asmus says the fruit on his trees in Michigan are just starting to ripen, owing to a cool spring.

And the taste? They live up to their nicknames. "Pawpaws have a really funny flavor and really funny texture, like a smooth banana, but also kind of mushy," he says. "Almost like a strawberry-banana flavor." Chefs and home cooks he knows use them to make cookies—"they add a sweetness and moisture to cookies," he says—breads, and even ice cream. And Asmus has tried canning them to take to various farm shows so he can have samples to give to potential pawpaw owners. "I have other jellies that I make sitting next to a milky pile of something that looks really horrible, but everyone who tastes it says it's really good!" he says. Just don’t look for them at the grocery store; you're more likely to find a pawpaw at your local farmer's market—if you aren't already growing them in your backyard.

Some nutritionists and foodies think pawpaws could be the next superfood. They have 20 to 70 times as much iron, 10 times as much calcium, and 4 to 20 times as much magnesium as bananas, apples, and oranges, Asmus has found. And research from Ohio State has found that they have antioxidant levels that rival cranberries and cherries. An added health bonus: Being a native tree, pawpaws are resistant to most pests and diseases, making them very easy to grow organically, without the insecticides or fungicides used in most fruit orchards.

"Plus, they just look really cool," Asmus says. They look like huge bananas and can weigh a pound or more, hanging in trees that live in shady areas alongside riverbanks and streams. Not only are they unique in appearance, they serve an important purpose. The Zebra swallowtail butterfly lay their eggs exclusively in the pawpaw tree, and the tree serves as the sole food source for their larvae.

Paw Paw

by Picky

Now that's some strange looking fruit, eh? It's a Paw Paw – the largest native to America tree fruit and it's one of the very few native to America fruits. They grow here in PA and apparently are fairly popular in SE Ohio (Pawpaw Festival). Well, we have them at the Fair Food Farmstand for $6.50/lbs. Fear not the price though as they're not too huge; a buck will get you a smallish one to try out.

Now the daunting task of picking out a ripe one. Over the year and change I've been working at the Farmstand has schooled me pretty well on picking some ripe fruit. I was decent beforehand, but now I can ID a ripe [fill in the blank] with the best of them. A truly ripe paw paw looks and feels offensively ripe. Like past how ripe you want a banana to be for banana bread (i.e. too soft and gushy for just plain eating). In the photo above, we have an almost ripe, brown paw paw at top and a green paw paw at bottom. Some people prefer the harder green paw paw, but some people also think a well done burger is acceptable fare ;) . The one pictured at top was squishy, but not about-to-burst ready.

So what does it taste like? It's somewhere between a banana and a mango. Yep, you read that right. Banana-mango. If you've ever ordered up a banana-mango smoothie at a smoothie stand, you just might love yourself a paw paw.

(Annoyingly, I've changed the position of the un/ripe paw paws from the first photo, sorry) How do you eat one of these suckers? Well, you can bit into one I guess, but I've split them open, lenghtwise and dug in with a spoon. On to specific taste… The unripe one first: it's got a fruity custard texture which goes well with one name for the paw paw: custard apple. It's not stringy inside, but not fully creamy. The seed pods, which are roughly as tall as pennies, but tapered and not as wide, are chewy – don't eat them, I was just curious. To me, the paw paw has more of a mild papaya than mango with a hint of banana. Closer to the skin side of the meat, the meat is a little chunkier and not as creamy as at the center.

The ripe one: Much more fragrant and much creamier meat with almost no harder chunks to be found inside. When scraping the meat from the inside of the skin, you get a hints of a toasted flavor which I really liked.

I've read that one can make chilled desserts from paw paw and that good old GW's favorite dessert was chilled paw paw. They're a strange fruit and well worth a try if you don't mind the texture – I know lots of people who have issues with oddly textured foods. The Farmstand received a shipment of paw paws from Green Meadow Farms in Gap, PA today. I haven't seen them yet, but I just called in and was told they were pretty large.

One volunteer from last year, whose family is from Jamaica, brought some home to her mother to try. She said her mom said the American paw paw was quite different from the Jamaican variety so if you've had the Jamaican one while island hopping in the Caribbean, these are different.


Anne said...

They don't travel well and have a VERY short storage time which is why it is an extremely local treat... same issues as their botanical tropical cousins, the Sops (soursop & sweetsop.)
Not all pawpaws are the same either. The quality varies.. and really only recently has there been any work with refining & creating strains.
The tree sends out suckers and creates a colony. Transplanting is difficult as the tree has a long taproot with a delicate/ brittle root system. Result is transplanting has modest success rates. Moving the clones/ suckers.. same problem.
The seeds are one of the few that can't handle drying out. If the seeds are left out to dry, after just 3 days viability drops to under 20%. Seedlings have to be started for the first few years *out* of direct sun. It's an understory tree.
If you buy transplants.. you're getting either an unknown quality seedling.. or a cultivar that was grafted on to rootstock. This means the suckers coming up.. are the same as the rootstock.. which the quality will be unknown until it fruits (takes about 6+ years.)
The flowers are.. well.. stinky. They are pollinated by flies & beetles.. the same ones that are drawn to dead bodies. They're not self fertile.. so you need another unrelated pawpaw.

Just in case you were wondering why there aren't more of them.

arclein said...


that certainly explains why they have not been worked with. Today though, with flash freezers and commercial cooking equipment, those issues can be worked around and they should be. Fresh may be local, but jam travels.

i have recently been introduced to what may be done with a ripe banana and it is quite surprising. Perhaps that will be true here also.