The Forager and the Fruit, Week Ending 9/6/2020

It’s pawpaw season again! Already. Somehow. Just like every other early September since I realized how many trees grew wild near my home. And yet, it still seems so soon.

A cluster of pawpaws clinging to a tree branch

I’m sure it’s COVID’s fault somehow. Everything else is!

The fruit is smaller this year, and it didn’t have “that” smell to it. Usually when the fruit are ripe, you can actually smell the distinctive aroma of pawpaws before you see the fruit on the ground. On a walk through the woods last weekend, we found an unexpected bounty of fruit littering the grass below the trees.

Gentle squeeze? Yep, it’s ripe.

We brought home five pawpaws, after my husband and kids ate another three on the trail.

Somehow the pawpaws seemed so much larger last year
Somehow the pawpaws seemed so much larger last year

But I wasn’t celebrating.

See, the problem (or “opportunity” if you try to always think positive) is that I eat a low carb diet. As in: almost no fruit, ever. Maybe a handful of blueberries, blackberries or raspberries here or there. Super sugary fruits like bananas or, you know, pawpaws? Almost never. I had a few nibbles from the ones my family ate, but the sweetness was too overpowering for more than just a taste.

According to this site, pawpaw flesh packs 16.2 carbs per 100 grams (total carbs minus dietary fiber) although they also note that removing the skin – which, um, you really want to do if you’re eating it, hello? – might reduce the grams of fiber.

Most recipes for foraged fruit focus on sweets and desserts, like syrups, pies, cakes, ice creams, jelly, jam, etc. I made a batch of pawpaw preserves once, but they turned brown and gross in the fridge because I very rarely eat bread or crackers, or any other food on normally smothers with preserves. Even the liqueurs, cordials, and wines I have attempted are higher in sugar than I prefer to consume on a regular basis.

And I’m embarrassed to admit I still have whole pawpaws in my freezer from last year’s season!

What to do? A bounty of wild food lingers mere steps from my door!

Currently I’m on the prowl for recipes that allow to me to leverage the local wild harvest without spiking my blood sugar. I decided to try foraging food author Sara Bir’s “Pawpaw Ha-Ha Habanero Hot Sauce”. To balance my transgressions of last week, I prepared the hot sauce with hyperlocal ingredients: habaneros, and carrots from my own garden, and pawpaws from the woods nearby.

Ingredients for this week's recipe - carrots, habaneros and pawpaws from my hyperlocal foodshed
Ingredients for this week’s recipe – carrots, habaneros and pawpaws from my hyperlocal foodshed

(Technically the onions and garlic came from my garden as well, but an infestation of root maggots devastated my crop. Thank goodness I had a freeze dryer to salvage the fragments that were still intact.)

**The following recipe is from Sara Bir’s The Fruit Forager’s Companion: Ferments, Desserts, Main Dishes, and More from Your Neighborhood and Beyond (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Pawpaw Ha-Ha Habanero Hot Sauce

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 carrots, grated (enough to make 1 packed cup)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
As few as 2 and as many as 10 habanero peppers, halved, seeded, and stemmed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup pawpaw pulp

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and add the onions. Cook over medium heat until soft. Add the garlic and carrots and enough water to barely cover the carrots. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. If, at the end of the simmering time, you have quite a lot of cooking liquid, spoon some of it off and reserve it.

Transfer the contents of the saucepan to a blender or food processor and add the lime juice, vinegar, honey, habaneros, and salt.

Puree, adding some of the reserved cooking liquid or a little water if it’s too thick. Let cool a bit, add the pawpaw pulp, and puree again. Allow to cool completely before putting in bottles or jars. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to two months.

Guys, this sauce is SO tasty. I used only two habaneros, and my taste buds thank me every single time I’ve used it. The spice hovers at a level of “warm” that I can comfortably tolerate. The pawpaw flavor is pronounced, but not overwhelming.

Pawpaw Ha-Ha Habanero Hot Sauce
Pawpaw Ha-Ha Habanero Hot Sauce

But how did we do on the carbs? The following sloppy math suggests “not bad”. A 1 cup of pawpaw pulp probably weighs about the same as 1 cup of mashed bananas, which means (according to this website) 300 grams. Which means 48-ish grams net carbs just for the pawpaws in this recipe. Plus the net carbs in the carrots. Plus the honey (oof). For the whole recipe, we end up with a whopping 91 grams of net carbohydrate. For the three cups of sauce the recipe made, that’s a little over 30 net carbs per cup. But here’s the thing… you don’t use a cup at a time! I drizzle a few teaspoons onto my food, or pour a dollop into a small dish to scoop. Eaten in small amounts, accompanying a high-protein main course (I’m thinking roast chicken, pulled pork or grilled fish), this is a very moderate way to enjoy the flavor of pawpaw.

I might have to try Bir’s recipe for barbecue sauce next. The pawpaw season is just starting, after all!

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