Pawpaw Pickin'

The best way to eat a pawpaw? “Cut it in half, scoop it out and eat it like a custard in a cup, which is essentially what it is,” said Andrew Moore in an interview with Splendid Table. Moore is an expert on the history and uses of this native fruit and author of “Pawpaw.”

 

Historically, pawpaws have been a big part of the local diet. According to Moore, “Humans have eaten pawpaws in Appalachia from day one. Fossil records show that the earliest Native Americans ate the fruit in great quantities, and even used the tree’s fibrous inner bark for rope, cordage, clothing items, and baskets. Subsequent pioneers—European and African newcomers—also ate the fruit. In some Appalachian locales, there were so many pawpaws the tree inspired town names–so we now have Paw Paw, West Virginia; Paw Paw, Kentucky; and even Paw Paw rivers and streets and avenues.”

Pawpaws are the largest native fruit known to the U.S, but they are often forgotten because we don’t see them in grocery stores. The reason for this is because pawpaws have a very short shelf life. They’re best eaten fresh off the tree, with a spoon as recommended by Moore.

A plus about pawpaws? Like many other native plants, pawpaws don’t require much external input to produce well. Unlike apples or pears, they are fairly resistent to disease and pests. So, they are easy to grow, needing no pesticides or herbicides to flourish.

The flavor is usually described as a cross between a mango and a banana, with a creamy texture. If you come across a wild pawpaw tree in the woods and find yourself with lots of the fruit, you can always make ice cream with them so as not to waste any of your harvest.

Knoxville is smack-dab in the middle of the “pawpaw belt,” which spans 26 states in the U.S. Beardsley Farm has a handful of pawpaw trees, which bore their first fruit last year. In this area, pawpaws are generally ready to harvest at the end of August. If you would like to be a part of the harvest, please come out to volunteer during this time. Give us a call in August to learn when we think the pawpaws will be at their prime.