Down In The Pawpaw Patch

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

and red-eyed vireos, relish this fruit. To beat the animals to the fruit, some people pick it while it's still on the tree. Neal Peterson, founder of the Pawpaw Foundation and a grower for more than 20 years, recommends this practice, adding that the fruit is already at, or past, its peak once it drops from the tree. Ripeness, he said, cannot be judged by the color. The only dependable sign is a slight softening of the fruit.

Other writers believe that the fruit is not ripe until it has changed color - either yellowish green or purple - suggesting that ripeness in the pawpaw may be a matter of personal taste, as it is with bananas.

Once it has begun to soften, the fruit has a shelf life of only a few days. If picked and refrigerated early, this can be extended for up to three weeks, and the fruit will still ripen normally once it is returned to room temperature.

The flavors of pawpaws vary considerably in wild varieties. Information from Kentucky State University, one of the schools in the forefront of developing the pawpaw for commercial growth, characterizes the flavor of wild pawpaws as ranging from awful to sublime. Most pawpaws taste good, some are truly wonderful, and a few are better for throwing than for eating."

The more sublime flavors of wild varieties or of select, grafted varieties, have been described as, "reminiscent of papaya with pineapple overtones, with bits of banana and mango;" "a complex combination of tropical fruit flavors" or, more simply, "a creamy mixture of banana and pineapple."

Nutritionally, pawpaws exceed apple, peach, and grape in most vitamins, minerals, amino acids and food energy value.

While many people enjoy eating this fruit raw, it has been incorporated into many recipes over time, including cakes, pies, cookies, custard, ice cream, sorbet, mousse, jellies and smoothies. It can be substituted as well in equal parts for bananas in old favorites, such as nut bread or pudding. The flesh purees easily and freezes nicely for storage.

For all recipes, cut the fruit, scoop out the flesh and remove the two rows of inedible, large, brown seeds. Here is a representative recipe from Wild Edibles of Missouri by Jan Phillips:

Although most people can eat pawpaws without complications, some experience severe stomach and intestinal pain. Others experience a skin irritation that typically lasts only a few minute from handling the fruit.

Early interest in developing the

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