Monday, October 12, 2009

Oh, My Pawpaw!

Last week during our Local Roots steering committee meeting, one of our supporters came to the door. Instead of asking us when we would be open and selling food, as so many of our supporters have been doing lately, this woman carried a couple small bags of fruit from her own gardens to share with us.

Not being ones to turn down good local food -- this is, after all, the whole point of what we're doing -- we stopped the meeting briefly to examine the contents: Concord grapes and pawpaws.

Pawpaws! I quivered with excitement, much as any collector on a lifetime hunt for the rarest, most elusive treasure would do. Pawpaws!

And why, you may ask, was this gift so noteworthy?

The pawpaw is a rarity in these parts. Though it is native to North America and even to Ohio, it is related to tropical fruit and has no commercial value whatsoever because it ripens quickly (and ferments quickly, too) and will not travel well. Unless you grow these on your own property, you could go through life never knowing how a pawpaw looks, smells, or tastes.

It's a pity, because the pawpaw contains more protein than most fruits, it is a low maintenance plant with virtually no pests, and it can be used much like a banana (a fruit that is even harder to find around these parts).

I happily took two -- one for myself and one for the Renaissance Man, of course -- and at the end of the evening, the remaining pawpaws somehow made it into my possession as well. (I just don't know how!)

The next evening, I took the opportunity to examine this odd fruit more closely. It wasn't fully ripe -- the fruit gave a little when pressed, but it still had some firmness to it. When opened, it had a sweet, rich fragrance akin to both banana and mango -- and a hint of something else.

I removed the seeds, which are surprisingly large and numerous for the size of the fruit -- about half a dozen seeds 1" long from a fruit about 3" long! Those I cleaned up, removing the rubbery casing and rinsing the dark brown seeds to save for the Farmgirl Wannabe, who would like to try planting them on her homestead.

Finally, I took a taste. Yes, it definitely had a creamy texture, and the taste did combine the tropical notes of banana and mango. But the aftertaste... hmmm. I am not entirely sure how to describe this vaguely disturbing aftertaste except to note that the flavor went straight to my nose and sort of tingled. It reminded me of medicine or some such thing... and then vanished.

Well, I thought, now I know why people say raw pawpaws are an acquired taste: that aftertaste is something that will either put you off the fruit forever or will be something you gradually learn to ignore.

Fortunately, though, all reports indicated that the aftertaste dissipated in cooking, so I found a recipe for pawpaw custard to try with the last large fruit.

The recipe was simple enough: milk, cream, egg, sugar, and the pulped fruit. I slid it into the oven to bake and waited for the results. The flavor that was left really concentrated on the tropical tastes, so it was much more pleasing than the raw fruit. I still wouldn't call this my favorite fruit at this point -- after only two experiences, how could I? -- but I could see the value of growing pawpaws in an area with no tropical fruits to call its own.

Count this as one more culinary adventure under my belt!

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At 10/14/2009 9:36 AM, OpenID movinginspirals said...

My sister in law grows paw paws and is always trying to give me seeds, starts, but I didn't have a clue what to do with them or where to grow them. Interesting... now I know more!

At 10/14/2009 9:39 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I've obviously never grown them, my Spiral Friend, but a Google search brings up a host of ideas for growing them from seed or keeping them in a greenhouse. Worth a try!

At 10/14/2009 11:57 AM, OpenID eatclosetohome said...

My tree dealer says that pawpaws taste like diesel fuel if they're not ripe! :)

He also showed us a fun way to eat them: roll and squish the whole fruit between your hands (or your hand and the table). You're trying to mush everything up inside the skin and to loosen those giant seeds from the pulp. Then tear off the stem end so you have a hole the size of a quarter. Squeeze the pulp up and out, eating it sort of like an ice cream cone or one of those squeeze yogurts. Spit the seeds out like a cherry pit.

He also says the best way to plant a pawpaw tree from seed is to eat the fruit in this manner out in the field, take the seed out of your mouth, and stick it in the ground.


At 10/14/2009 12:34 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Oh, wow, how fun is that, Emily?!?!? I will pass the information along to the Farmgirl Wannabe -- I can just see her doing this... ;-)

Oh, and I wouldn't have quite said "diesel fuel" but it's probably not far off.

At 10/29/2009 9:38 PM, Blogger Sarah Lenz said...

I just found out about pawpaws this fall. And, let's just say I fell HARD. I didn't have the misfortune of trying an unripe one though.

I first had pawpaws in creme brulee, and the complexity of flavor was astonishing.

Check out my posts on pawpaws at Prose and Potatoes ,

At 10/30/2009 7:10 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks for sharing, Sarah. Sounds like it was an incredible experience!

And for those of you who are interested, Sarah is working on a three-part pawpaw adventure on her blog, so you will find part one here and part two here. Enjoy!


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