Yesterday I attended the 4th Annual Pawpaw Festival at Long Creek Homestead. The heat had settled back in over the mid-Atlantic region, but it was still a good day to be outdoors with other pawpaw lovers.
We tasted samples of named cultivars of pawpaws: Allegheny, Potomac, Shenandoah and Susquehanna. You can tell that these are all Peterson cultivars because he names his varieties after American rivers. (You can read descriptions of these, and other cultivars, at https://www.petersonpawpaws.com/pawpaws-home). Some people think cultivar fruit has better flavor than wild fruit, and the flavor is definitely more consistent from fruit to fruit. (Although still impacted by growing conditions.) The fruit also tends to be larger, and some cultivars have different textures.
At the festival, they also provided free samples of pawpaw butter – a warm, chunky spread – as well as pawpaw ice cream. (Which was very tasty but did not have a pronounced pawpaw flavor, in my personal opinion. More like vanilla ice cream with small pieces of pawpaw mixed through.)
As a side note – EVERYTHING used for samples was biodegradable and compostable. They even had cups for water dispensers that were compostable. The spoons were wood rather than plastic. The pawpaws for sale were packed in cardboard boxes. I absolutely loved the additional care and thought that went into supplying these items. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any trash receptacles clearly labeled as being for compost, so all these compostable items got mixed up with things that weren’t. And I can’t imagine anybody sifting through the garbage from the day to separate the two. Ah, well.
I splurged and bought TWO books. So much for my book diet! Sara Bir’s Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook is one I had wanted for a while. Michael Judd’s For the Love of Pawpaws JUST came out. And it was a signed copy! I’m very much looking forward to using his instructions to germinate my own pawpaw trees. (We have one singular pawpaw now – I call her Pawlly – but we “liberated” her from the nearby forest rather than growing her from seed.)
We also bought four cultivar pawpaws, although part of me rankled and spending $10 a pound for something I find on the forest floor for free! Our plan is to mix the cultivar fruit (two Shenandoah and two Allegheny) with pulp from our wild fruit, for a more balanced flavor. Plus, I think the window on wild pawpaws closed a week or so ago. I had the opportunity to hunt for them this past week, but found very few fruit on the ground and almost none remaining in the trees.
The few pawpaws that still clung to the branches weren’t quite ripe yet, though they fell from the tree easily when we gave the trunk a hard shake. A lot of foraging experts say that pawpaws will not ripen off the tree. However in my experience if they were already ripe enough to fall, they will continue to soften and become more fragrant as they sit on a kitchen counter a few days.
If you find yourself somehow with a glut of pawpaws and you don’t know what to do with them, you can put the whole fruit – peel and all – into the freezer for a later date. Freezing also makes them easier to peel and process (although cold!) when you are ready to use them. Remember the seeds are toxic! They can cause serious intestinal distress. I have read the skins are also inedible, although the foraging books aren’t quite as emphatic about the skin as they are the seeds.
(Also remember – as with trying any new food – to sample a bit and see how your body handles it. The first time I tried pawpaw I was very queasy afterwards, and a lot of folks have this reaction. Thankfully it was only that one time for me!)
Still don’t know what to do with pawpaws? In addition to Sara Bir’s book, there are pawpaw recipes in the following:
Forage, Harvest, Feast by Marie Viljoen
Eating Appalachia by Darrin Nordahl
Fruit by Nancie McDermott
And of course, Sara Bir’s cookbook above.
For the record, I don’t recall there being recipes in Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit by Andrew Moore. I had to request it through ILL and never did get all the way through the book before having to return it to the library… looking at the table of contents, it appears there is a pawpaw ice cream recipe in Appendix 1. But I wouldn’t recommend this book over the others above, if you are just looking for an ice cream recipe.
What’s your favorite use for pawpaws, if you have tried them? What foraged or gardened harvests are you enjoying this fall?
Note: Yes, I feel like I need to say this each time. I am not an Amazon affiliate marketer and I do not get paid a commission if you buy these books through Amazon. I highly recommend getting them through your local library instead. (Or ILL if you have to.) If you would like to support my work, you can hire me to perform a wild edibles assessment for property in the northern WV, central MD, northern VA, or southern PA area; hire me to speak or write about foraging, permaculture and sustainability; or consider making a donation.