A coworker of mine, Bonnie, was out on her morning walk last week and brought back some strange looking fruit. When she told me to stop by her office I knew I was in for a treat. I didn’t actually think I would receive a real edible treat!
Missouri’s very own banana is what Bonnie called it. Others may know it by its actual name the pawpaw.
Pawpaws are small trees that grow in colonies. They can be found in dense shade on moist lower slopes, ravines, valleys, along streams and at the base of wooded bluffs. The dark reddish – purple flowers are striking when they begin to bloom in March. It is said that when crushed, the blooms smell similar to fermenting grapes. Native Americans actually used the inner bark of the tree to weave fiber for clothes, while the pioneers used the same material for stringing their fish. The northernmost New World representative of a tropical fruit, the pawpaw tree produces some of the most interesting fruit.
“Just peel the thin skin and eat away” were the only instructions I received. The pawpaw’s fruit is cylindrical and oblong in shape. When I first tasted the pawpaw, it tasted like tree bark. Not my favorite flavor but it sure had a “naturey” taste to it. I later learned that I was supposed to wait until the fruit had ripened. The green skin of the unripe fruit turns yellow as the pawpaw matures. Once ripe, the fruit becomes edible and is said to have a banana-like taste.
Pawpaw test: Take two.
Not satisfied with the first results of my pawpaw-eating experience, another coworker promised he would find me a ripe pawpaw to try. After a few days, some calls and emails, Jim messaged me to say he had secured a fruit for me to try. I wasn’t exactly excited about having to taste test the pawpaw again, but I was set on getting the true Missouri banana experience.
Sure enough, it does taste like banana. Missouri’s banana (as long as it is ripe) is quite the tasty fruit. As with every food, some people are allergic to pawpaws, so take precaution. What I find best is to try a little bit the first time. In addition, the large seeds are toxic and have been known to induce vomiting, be careful when biting into this edible treat. Do not let the seeds deter you, just spit them out and keep on munching.
This is the time of year that pawpaw’s are starting to fall from the trees. The drought that Missouri has been experiencing this year has taken its toll on fruit and other natural foods, making them hard to find. If you are lucky enough to discover a fruit-bearing tree, be sure to grab them while you can. Raccoons are notorious for swiping pawpaws as soon as they ripen. Go on an outdoor adventure and find your very own natural snack, Missouri’s Banana -- the pawpaw.