Pawpaw Season

For this week’s foraging post, I intended to write a long, philosophical introspection on the value of foraging, and the importance of harvesting wild food that you (and your family, as applicable) will actually eat.

As much as I’m sure you would have loved these deep ponderings, they will have to wait. It’s abruptly pawpaw season!

I certainly didn’t expect the fruit of the pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) to be ready in late August.  But earlier this year I joined a Maryland foraging group on Facebook (and for all its faults, Facebook actually is helpful for this sort of online community), and this morning one of the members posted they had found ripe pawpaws in Charles county. Well. Charles is quite a bit south and east of Frederick, with a warmer seaside climate, but I still had to check.

Locally, I found some fruit on the ground, likely the casualty of a recent afternoon storm. (Mid-Atlantic summer weather: hot, muggy, humid – “Like you stepped into someone’s mouth”, according to one of my friends – with a chance of severe thunderstorms. every. single. afternoon.) The unripe fruit is still firm or hard to the touch, with green colored skin and no discernable smell.

Unripe pawpaws are green, hard, and lack the distinctive pawpaw aroma
Unripe pawpaws are green, hard, and lack the distinctive pawpaw aroma

I kept looking, just in case.

And then we found them. Well, my husband did. He stepped on one! Remember, the best place to find ripe pawpaws is on the ground! I was looking in the branches for fruit low enough I could check for firmness, but everything we wanted carpeted the forest floor. Just last week I predicted it would be a month until pawpaw fruit was ready, and nature proved me wrong!

Ripe pawpaws are yellowish, bruised, soft and fragrant
Ripe pawpaws are yellowish, bruised, soft and fragrant

Note the ripe pawpaws have a yellowish tint to their skin, plus black bruises, and animal and insect gnaw marks, and an aroma that cannot be mistaken for anything else! After a day of them sitting on my counter, my kitchen almost reeks of the sweet smell.

These fruit all appeared to come from the same tree, or possibly the same grove. Pawpaws can spread by suckering in addition to seeds, so multiple trees in a grove might be genetically identical. Either way, these fruit were both early and comparatively large for wild pawpaws. Of course I had to try planting some of the seeds for my own future grove.

Pawpaw seeds awaiting next spring
Pawpaw seeds awaiting next spring

The most important part of germinating pawpaws is to keep the seeds moist. They also need a long stratification period – cold temperatures, like if they were outside – so I will keep them in a shady spot in my garden until next spring will they will hopefully come to life. The fabric pots are extra deep to make room for the pawpaws’ lengthy taproot.

In honor of the early – and hopefully long – pawpaw season, here are some resources for your own pawsible harvest! I will update this information (and repost it) yearly as I find more sources to share.

For the Love of Pawpaws by Michael Judd. I haven’t tried many of his recipes yet, but I’m really looking forward to them. I particularly appreciate the vegan / raw recipes, because most recipes that are vegan & raw are also paleo. Insider secret: raw is where vegan and paleo diets intersect. Although not always fossil-fuel-free – the “cheesecake” bits, for instance, used cashews (oil for transportation) and coconut oil/milk (oil for transportation and industrial manufacturing). Alas.

Fruit by Nancie McDermott. A handful of straightforward, dessert-y recipes.

Eating Appalachia by Darrin Nordahl. I like the fact that many of the recipes are non-desserts, although I have only sampled a few. I tried the Pawpaw-Tamarind Sauce, and didn’t find it remarkable enough to be worth the work. The Pawpaw Whiskey Sour, on the other hand, was scrumptious.

Forage, Harvest, Feast by Marie Viljoen (Truly, I cannot make a foraging post anymore without mentioning this book!) No, I haven’t tried any of her many pawpaw recipes, but the Pawpaw Spice Cake is on my list, despite the wheat flour in it.

The Fruit Forager’s Companion by Sara Bir. The source of the Pawpaw Ha-ha-ha-habanero hot sauce I shared last year. This book overlaps slightly with the Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook (below).

The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook by Sara Bir. An more extensive selection of recipes, not all of which are desserts. I never did make the barbecue sauce last year, so maybe I’ll revisit it this year.

Pawpaw : in search of America’s forgotten fruit by  Andrew Moore. I read this long enough ago I forgot whether it has recipes; if it did, there were just a few and I didn’t attempt making any of them.

Note: I am not an affiliate marketer and I do not get commissions if you buy these books from Amazon.com. I highly recommend looking for them at your public library. 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.

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