In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Pawsibilities

This week we have a bonus foraging post! Ladies and gentlemen, may I present: pawpaws. The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is almost as mythical a foraging find as morels and ramps. The difference? I actually found pawpaw fruit!

The fruit is extremely soft when ripe, the yellowish green skin easily torn, and it often looks unsightly with discolored or black spots. Which means you’ll never find pawpaws in grocery stores! The pawpaw is indigenous to the Appalachians. Luckily I live just on the outskirts of the mountains so of course I had to try finding some for myself!

The pawpaw is a short understory tree. (Or an overgrown shrub.) The trick was first recognizing the huge leaves in the local woods; then spying the fruit high up in the branches. There are some guidelines to tracking pawpaws here.  They don’t always produce fruit consistently, depending on the conditions from year to year. They are pollinated by flies instead of bees, so apparently roadkill or scat helps produce more fruit. The larger ones seem to produce the most fruit, which unfortunately means they are out of reach. Once I finally confirmed the trees with fruit, I began stalking a few local groves.

Can You Spot the Pawpaws?

Can You Spot the Pawpaws?

Fast forward several months to early September. I didn’t mean to come home with an armload of the fruit. I just wanted to check if any nuts had fallen from the possible butternut tree. But the road was muddy where we wanted to pull over, so we drove about a mile or so past the tree. And since we were going to be near the pawpaw groves anyway, we decided to check how close the fruit was to being ripe.

I figured we were still a few weeks early because any fruit we could reach to check was rock hard. Thankfully, my husband remembered something I’d just told him from my recent reading of Eating Appalachia. You know the fruit is fully ripe when it falls to the ground. So while I was looking up (in disappointment), he looked down. Sure enough, green ripe fruit lay scatted among the leaves and weeds. So it didn’t matter after all that the fruit grew out of reach. Except may be it getting more bruised on its way to the ground. Critters and ants had beaten us to a few, but we still gathered a lot.

Pawpaw Harvest

Pawpaw Harvest

Interestingly enough, when we checked other trees, there were no fruit found on the ground at all. Not sure if they had already been eaten by forest creatures, found by other foragers, or just hadn’t ripened enough to fall yet. We also collected the end of a branch loaded with fruit that seemed almost ripe. Still to be determined whether they only will ripen on the plant (like strawberries) or off the plant (like tomatoes).

The seeds are huge compared to the overall fruit size, and present a challenge to effectively eating the fruit or extracting its pulp. The easiest method is to slice open the fruit and eat the yellow pulp with a spoon, discarding the seeds as you encounter them like watermelon seeds. (Except don’t try to swallow these, please!) Each fruit tastes different, and no two people will interpret the flavor the same way. The one consistent impression is “tropical”. You can variously experience banana, vanilla, mango, or pear. Or a mix of multiple flavors. The flavor is overwhelmingly sweet; I couldn’t eat very much since I eat very little sugar in my diet. Sometimes there is a bitter aftertaste, which may increase as the flesh oxidizes. I haven’t worked with it enough to confirm if that is the case. The texture is like custard, or pudding.

That's a lot of pawpaw seeds and pulp

That’s a lot of pawpaw seeds and pulp

After eating a few, we processed the pulp from the rest. We tried to use a food mill, but the size of the seeds prevented the mill from turning at all. So we separated seeds and skin by hand, then ran the resulting pulp through the food mill for a more consistent texture. We ended up with about two cops. I added a tablespoon of lemon juice to help preserve the color. I used part of it to make the Eating Appalachia recipe Pawpaw simple syrup – yes, for cocktails. Don’t judge!

Pawpaw Simple Syrup

Pawpaw Simple Syrup

The Pawpaw Whiskey Sour recipe was waaaaay too sweet for me; instead of 2 parts pawpaw syrup to 1.5 parts whiskey, our ratio ended up closer to 1 part pawpaw to 2 parts whiskey. We froze the rest of the pulp for future use… maybe for ice cream! The possibilities are endless.

Pawpaw Whiskey Sour

Pawpaw Whiskey Sour

If you cannot forage pawpaws locally, you can actually order frozen pulp online, for example from Integration Acres.

Obligatory warning: some people feel sick, even to the point of nausea, after eating pawpaw. Always sample new foods in small amounts first to ensure they agree with you before eating larger amounts. Additional foraging safety tips are here.


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Berry Grateful

Welcome to my new series: how to suck at gardening and still feed your family!

One of the greatest disappointments we face when producing our own food is a scrawny, mangled harvest.

Mangled berries are still edible!

Mangled berries are still edible!

It’s important to keep trying, and not let your spoils, well, spoil.

Those mangled berries are edible, so use them! They are great in shakes, fruit leather, jams and syrups.


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Annual Garden Update, The Third

I’m falling behind with my posts. Again. I have so much I want to write, and so little opportunity to sit still at a computer screen. Luckily (I guess?) I recently decided to make my blog more focused on content which is either informative or inspirational, because that’s what I like to read on other people’s blogs. Less of the navel-gazing, more useful content. At least, that’s my plan!

Anyway, this garden update will cover my various berries endeavors.   Starting with: blueberries!  (And a fig.)  Last year, these guys were all in containers.  Then the particularly cold winter killed them all… well, OK, truth in blogging – it was the cold winter plus the fact that the containers did not have any holes in the bottom for water to drain out. So the plants were already compromised health-wise, and then the winter basically did them in.  All but the “Farthing” blueberry in the back. The rest are replacements.

Blueberry bushes

Blueberry bushes

Same for the fig in front.  He is the only one planted in a container still, though sunken into the ground.  This helps constrain the root growth so the fig puts more energy into growing the branches, leaves and fruit. The previous fig also died from the cold winter.

Here’s a side view of my raspberries. This year I have much more aggressively pruned them and trained them in tight rows, held in place by wire. This approach has increased my harvest HUGELY because it’s so much easier to pick the fruit in the middle of the bed without getting scratched to death. I have had much fewer “raspberry kisses” this year than previously. “Raspberry kisses” is my term for those teensy splinters that you can’t see but make your flesh swell up around them so a day or so later you know exactly where they are.

Trellised Raspberries

Trellised Raspberries

I use a pruning method that produces two crops a year, described on page four of this article.  The spring/early summer crop just wrapped up, and the fall crop of  berries are already getting huge but not yet turning ripe. Any day now!

New this year: blackberries! Well, not technically new.  Last year we planted to blackberry bushes, and the instructions clearly said not to let them fruit the first year. So this is the first year with fruit. I tried training them the same as the raspberries, but blackberry canes grow in all sorts of weird directions from all sorts of unlikely places, so they became quite chaotic as the spring went on. Also, they were/are so heavily loaded with fruit that the branches often break and the fruit dies. Strangely enough, I haven’t found any sites about how to deal with too many blackberries!  Next year I may prune off the weaker canes so there isn’t as much fruit. Maybe.

Loaded blackberries

Loaded blackberries

The blackberries started ripening just as the raspberries started petering out, so the timing was impeccable.

Also: blackberries really are weeds. So wherever the canes grew so long that they bent over and touched the ground, that spot developed roots and became its own plant! So now I have two beds of blackberries, plus at least one plant in the walkway between.  So next year we’ll have as big an area producing blackberries as currently produce raspberries. Oh, and because of the chaotic nature of blackberry growth I have NO clue which plants came from the Navajo and which from the Cumberland.

New (volunteer!) blackberry plants

New (volunteer!) blackberry plants

Not pictured: my strawberries. The ones in front of the house started producing ripe fruit in mid-May; the ones in the garden, late May to early June. The crops weren’t great due to bugs and the very wet spring which created a lot of mold issues, particularly in the raised bed which never seemed to dry out.  The strawberries plants look awful this time of year – all sunburnt from hot days and chewed up by the terrible Japanese beetle infestation we’ve been suffering.  Next year we’re going to grow strawberries in elevated containers, so the fruit hangs from the side rather than sitting in dirt and ick. I need to start catching the daughter plants so we’ll have our own cuttings to help fill in the new structure.