Pawpaw Harvest

What is a pawpaw?

a. someone’s grandpa
b. a tropical fruit better known as papaya
c. a fruit that grows wild at least as far North as Virginia and West Virginia?

Actually – all of the above!

I have been curious about pawpaws (Asimina triloba) for years now but have never been able to get my hands on them. It’s not like you can buy them in the grocery store, and I have never seen them at farmer’s markets either. I planted a few pawpaw seedlings but they are still only knee-high and will take years before they will be bearing fruit.

This spring, I finally saw pawpaw blossoms on a few trees along the river. They are very pretty, 6-petaled, maroon colored flowers:

pawpaw blossoms

pawpaw blossoms

In early summer, I visited a friend who lives down by the river. I noticed a number of trees with large, dark green leaves along the river bank.

When I looked more closely, I saw small, unripe pawpaw fruits clinging to the branches. Jackpot! I told my friend about my discovery and she gave me permission to harvest them when they were ripe. She herself had never noticed them or eaten the fruit.

I didn’t know when the pawpaws would be ripe and asked around a bit. Some vague responses pointed towards mid to late September in our area. So I took the opportunity a few days ago, when I was in the general vicinity, to check on “my” pawpaw trees. When I turned down the narrow lane, this was the view that greeted me:

Stand of pawpaws

Stand of pawpaws

– an entire row of pawpaw trees along the edge of the field, nestled under much taller walnut trees.

On the other side of this row of trees was the river, flooded with golden green late afternoon light:

I knew I didn’t have much daylight left, so I turned my back on the river and began to scan the trees for fruit. Sometimes they were high above my head and I had to shake the branches and collect them after they rained down on me.

pawpaws in tree

pawpaws in tree

.

At other times, they were just out of reach and I had to step into the thorny brambles growing under the pawpaw trees to get to the fruit. It might have taken me an hour to gather an armload full of fruit, conveniently fitting into my sun hat.

A hat full of pawpaws

A hat full of pawpaws

Most of them were still hard and unripe. But when I found a soft fruit, I decided to split it open and taste it right there. After all, if I didn’t like the fruit, what was the point in going through all that effort, accumulating scratches and wondering whether any deer ticks would be hitchhiking home with me?

Pawpaw cut open

Pawpaw cut open

I squeezed the pulp into my mouth: it was soft and creamy and pleasantly sweet, tasting like banana custard. I didn’t even mind the dozen or so black seeds that seemed to be randomly nestled throughtout the flesh.

Pawpaw seeds

Pawpaw seeds

This was entirely worth the trip and the bloodied forearms, what a delicacy!

Today, I experimented with the half dozen fruit that were soft. I peeled them, squeezed out all the seeds (a bit tedious when you have to do more than one). I whipped up some heavy cream in the blender, added the pawpaw flesh to turn it into a rich, creamy custard. This custard crowned a freshly baked bread pudding. A bit of elderberry syrup drizzled over the whole concoction – it was very, very good!

Breadpudding with pawpaw whip cream

Breadpudding with pawpaw whip cream

About Beauty Along the Road

My name is Annette. I am passionate about nature, health, simplicity, self-reliance, truth, and life-long learning. Originally from Germany, I now live in Virginia, USA. I am a therapist, health coach, writer, photographer, and organic gardener.
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24 Responses to Pawpaw Harvest

  1. Rudolph Poodaluski says:

    Within 100 miles east of me I have found wild Pawpaw trees and the delightful zebra swallowtail bitterflies that follow them. I have lived my life close to Pawpaws but have never eaten one. As an orchard gardener I want to grow Pawpaws or at least see if they will grow here. I know commercial dealers will ship Pawpaws but I would like to try germinating some from seed. Do you know where I can get Pawpaw seed? Thank you,

    Like

    • Hi Rudolph – I tried growing pawpaws from seed but was not successful at all. They have very special requirements and develop a very long taproot before they show much top growth. I’d recommend you get tree seedlings and plant those. Where are you? I am in zone 4 and mine survived last winter which was really harsh. They are definitely worth planting and waiting for. Now that I know where to find them, I don’t mind the wait for my own to bear fruit🙂

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  2. utesmile says:

    I only know pawpaw from the jungle book. Never seen one until now. And as you say they look yummy. I’d love to try them specially in a desert like your last one!

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  3. Aggie says:

    I have wondered about pawpaws. Thanks for the first hand info! And, as usual. the imagery.

    Like

  4. indacampo says:

    They look somewhat like miniature mangoes with the green flesh and black drippings on the outside although they are a variety of soursop aren’t they? We get the big ones growing here and they are really worth picking around those big black seeds.

    Sometimes tenacity pays off, congratulations on your “booty” of paw, paw!

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    • Karen – you are right, they look a bit like a certain type of mango, even similar in size. But the seeds also remind me of soursop, except the flesh is definitely yellow and not white. I am not sure if the two are related, I was thinking about finding out by checking their Latin names…
      I am so glad I went looking for them….not too many people seem to know about this fruit.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating, Annette. I, like you, have heard references to pawpaw forever, but knew nothing about them until now. Your dessert sounds Out Of This World. What an inventive and delicious way to use that fruit.

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    • I am pretty sure they are growing along the James and other streams in your area. In fact, that’s where I saw the trees for the first time. I just heard from someone on the Facebook plant ID site that they grow up into Canada and that Ohio has a pawpaw festival….a hardy tree soul with fruit for the angels…

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  6. jpeggytaylor says:

    Wow! Foraging pawpaws! How wonderful is that🙂 Absolutely fascinating to learn more about these fruit – I have only ever seen them dried in small cubes. They do remind me of small mangoes too.

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    • Peggy – what you find in the store in small cubes (and a reddish color) is most likely papaya. I don’t think it’s commercially viable to harvest the pawpaws I described and process them because they have so many seeds that are tedious and time-consuming to distract.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. mpejovic says:

    Looks delicious! I’d love to taste one of those one day. I recently learned there’s an old French dialect called pawpaw in the Midwest. Go figure!

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  8. Thank you Annette, that is so interesting, I have never heard of Pawpaw trees and fruit. To me they look like little green mangoes. What’s the taste of it?

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  9. Really cool essay! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Until now I would have answered “a tunnel” to your quiz at the beginning. When we biked the C&O towpath years ago, we had to pass through the 3,000-foot long Paw Paw tunnel near Paw, Paw WV, that was built to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a series of horseshoe bends on the Potomac.

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  10. suzjones says:

    Your paw paws sound a little different to the ones we have growing in our backyard. The seeds of ours are small and round and they are in a hollow in the centre of the fruit. I like paw paw and grew up with my grandmother who used to have trees outside her kitchen windows. She would lean out the windows and pick the fruit when it was ripe. If she thought it was a little tart, she would sprinkle sugar on it before eating. lol

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  11. Aileen Hunt says:

    Annette, love the blog! And thanks for clearing something up for me. I lived in America when my children were little and often sang along with them to the Paw Paw Patch song. But I’d no idea what paw paws looked like, let alone tasted like. Mystery solved now, thanks to this charming post!

    Like

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