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Pickin' Up Pawpaws

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We've been to Montana, but there is so much wonderful stuff happening right here in Appalachian Ohio I hardly know what to do with myself. If you want to know what makes me completely and utterly happy, read this post. It is hard to write as I have pawpaw processor's elbow from squooshing pawpaws through a colander all morning, getting that rich yellow pulp that makes my heart sing and my guts go OH!

Anyone who has visited our house knows that food is a huge part of our lives. Local food, so, so much the better. Local wild food found on our land: best best best. I found a new grove of young pawpaws blooming deep in our east valley last spring and tied some pink flagging along the oil well road so I could revisit in September. When I started seeing coon and coyote poop full of pawpaw seeds, I knew it was time to go shake some trees.

So on a fine Saturday morning the whole family, Chet Baker too, trooped down the briery slope to the new pawpaw patch. We were not disappointed. The very first thing Phoebe found was a muddy box turtle with blazing red eyes. He was muddy because he'd been soaking in the oil road puddles.
The very next thing she found was a bunch of pawpaws!
Pawpaw hunting is really more pawpaw rustling. You peer up into the canopy, see pawpaws, count them, and then shake the trees. Generally, the bigger the tree, the bigger the fruit. We get very excited when we see the fruit in clusters. We call the clusters "kittens." Um...because a good pawpaw is about the size of a newborn kitten, I guess. We have our own language when we're hunting pawpaws.

Five in this cluster. They fall all around you--ploop! ploop! ploop! ploop!--you hope not on your head. Because the big ones hurt like crazy. And you can't always tell how many pawpaws a tree has. Sometimes it's a big surprise how many plop out of it when you shake it.

See those huge ovoid leaves? There's nothing else like them. And they always grow in patches. Which is probably because there are so many seeds on the ground from all the dropped fruit. Or perhaps they propagate from root shoots. I do know that the pawpaw's dispersal mechanism is simple. Plop to the ground when you're ripe, and something furry snarfles you up right then and there. You hope it's something that's big enough to swallow some of your huge slick lima-bean sized seeds as it's snarfling your delicious yellow pulp. And then to poop them out at an undisclosed location, sometime later. Ow ow ow. That something would be a raccoon, an opossum, a deer, a coyote, even a fox...there are plenty of candidates. Humans are another decent prospect, even though we're too fussy to swallow the seeds. We spit them out as we walk, and that accomplishes about the same thing, minus the dollop of fertilizer.

In our woods, this constitutes a big pawpaw tree, a Daddyshaker. They do attain the size of normal trees, eventually, but being shade-grown, they grow very slowly. And our land has been abused--cut and grazed, cut and grazed, cut and grazed--for so many decades that the neat stuff is just now coming back into it. We've let it rest for 18 years, and it's starting to pay off.

Liam looves pawpaws. May I eat this one?
Yes, of course!
He polished off four that morning. To eat a pawpaw, you just bite right through the skin and you get a mouthful of big shiny brown seeds and sweet pulp. You suck the seeds and skin clean and ptoo them out. And your hands get really sticky.

Phoebe picked up the cluster of kittens.

Papaw got some, too. And Chet Baker ate his own pawpaw. By that time my hands were so sticky I couldn't touch my camera. You'll just have to imagine the cuteness.

Nothing makes the Science Chimp happier than a successful pawpaw hunt in our very own woods with her mate and young. It brings out the caveman in all of us.

monkeycam shot by BilloftheBirds

Did I say nothing makes the Chimp happier? Well, there is something...see the next post for The Science Chimp's Biggest Entomological Adventure.


Oh, I had so much fun reading this! What is there...a song or a rhyme about the pawpaw patch? I never knew what they were.

Now I've got all the quishy sweetness, but you didn't tell us what they taste like.

They taste like butterscotch banana mango custard! They taste like nothing that should come off a little tree in a mesic deciduous forest. They taste like something they'd bring you on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.
They taste GREAT.

That first photo makes you look like one of the characters out of Sesame Street. Can't think which one.

Each year I hope to find a tree with its kittens still intact--hasn't happened yet.
I may need to wander a bit more off the trail for this most delectable hikers' treat!

Digitalzen-- If you could see me processing them, sticking my whole hand in my gob to get the last bit of sweetness, you'd pick Miss Piggy...

Nina, mark your calendar now for the first week of September 2011. Now's a bit late, coons've got 'em all by now.

If I ever have the opportunity to bite into a pawpaw, I will immediately remember the joy they give you and your family, remember these silly photos, and smile.

I somehow lived in Ohio for twenty-three years of my life without ever tasting a pawpaw. (I didn't actually even learn they existed until I was in college.) Someday, someday...

I've seen em advertised in some of the seed and plant catalogs, and want to taste one some day . . . alas I live in MN, and before that WI . . . I think too far north for them to grow. I understand they don't ship too easily. Your post reminds me that I need to taste them some day, maybe I should try to see if one could grow here.

So other than eeat them fresh, what else can you do with them?
I'm thinking that the processing is for jam or something?

Posted by myamuhnative September 16, 2010 at 6:15 PM

I usually make yogurt smoothies with them, and stir in some granola. I also make a yogurt based sauce with cardamom for topping Indian food. You could make fresh salsa with them, and I've had them in beurre blanc and even creme brulee. Basically anything you could do with mashed banana or mango you can do with pawpaws. You've got this lovely smooth yellow custardy pulp, completely without seeds or fiber--just pure flavor.

I've always want to eat them but never seen them. Kentucky State U has lot of delicious looking recipes for them. Maybe I'll have to spend a late summer/fall in Pawpaw land and feast.

So green is ripe? How is it that I grew up in Indiana but never saw the fruit, only the seed pods? Or maybe that was another tree I'm thinking of... In any case, gotta try some now.

*Soft* is ripe, Stefanie, and that's usually green. They turn yellowish green when dead ripe, yellow when overripe and then black. Rule of thumb: if they fall when you shake the tree, they're ripe. Or if they aren't quite soft, they'll get that way in just a few days on the countertop. The fruit is the only seed vehicle, so if you were seeing pods those may not have been pawpaws.
Pawpaw leaves turn bright yellow about now in September, making them very easy to pick out in the forest.

Tastes good, sticky and gooey - a kids (all ages qualify) ideal treat.

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