Walking with Pawpaws

Jun
25


I talked about the pawpaw trees in my upper pasture a few days ago and had some curious questions, and I realize also that some of you reading here may not have even heard of pawpaw trees. I’d never heard of pawpaws before I moved to West Virginia several years ago. Pawpaw trees are native here and pretty widespread, so you’re liable to find them on most any farm, though I never knew of any at Stringtown Rising. I knew I had pawpaw trees across the road here, but I hadn’t paid much attention to the trees in the upper pasture (other than the sassafras). When I’m in the upper pasture, I’m usually looking at a) animals, b) water, or c) grass. That tends to take up my available attention span. It took Adam to point out the pawpaws, and then I realized they were everywhere up there. They border the meadow all the way up and down, mixed in with other trees such as sassafras and mulberry.


One smallish stand of pawpaw trees away from other trees where you can see the size and shape of the trees:

I can’t walk around up there without everybody following me, of course.

Pawpaw fruit is sort of banana-ish. They’re often described as a cross between a mango and a banana, with a soft (custard-like) consistency. (Like a banana.) It belongs to a tropical family but grows in a temperate climate. People have been eating pawpaws for a long time. Native Americans ate pawpaws. Lewis and Clark ate pawpaws. Thomas Jefferson ate pawpaws. Our great-grandmas ate pawpaws. But for some reason, pawpaws have not been mass commercially cultivated and distributed to grocery stores, so if you live in an urban or suburban area, you may never come across them though they do show up in farmers markets occasionally. The limited availability and distribution may be because they have a short ripe period and short shelf life. I’ve been contemplating what to do with my pawpaw plenty. Like bananas, they are probably not a good candidate for home canning (and I doubt there is much if any study into the safety of canning them). However, they should be good for preserving the way I preserve bananas–mashing and freezing, or dehydrating.

Ripe pawpaws will fall off the tree when you shake it, so they aren’t hard to harvest, even from tall trees, and you can use them in much the same way you might use a banana. Pawpaw bread, pawpaw muffins, pawpaw cream pie. Pawpaw ice cream, anyone? I’m sure to have a lot of pawpaws here when they’re ready. Pawpaws have to be used quickly or they go bad (like bananas) so I will be doing a lot of mashing and freezing to save pawpaws up for later.

I planted two pawpaw trees in the yard to the side of the studio this spring.

Why plant pawpaws? You can read a little story about pawpaws at the NPR site here, and if you watch the video in the story, you can see a cultivated pawpaw and a wild pawpaw side by side. You get a much bigger bang for the buck with a cultivated pawpaw–same size seeds but more fruit. And it’s a little handier right in the yard, though foraging from the wild always come with a little more excitement. Of course, I also didn’t realize at the time just how many pawpaw trees I had. I have a veritable pawpaw orchard.

Stay tuned for a pawpaw recipe palooza around September when I find out how plentiful my pawpaw patches will be. Pawpaws do need cross-pollination (which is why I planted two compatible pawpaw trees in the yard). If a patch of pawpaws isn’t producing, it may mean the patch comes from root sprouts of the same original tree and there’s no pollinator, so there’s always the possibility that I won’t have as much fruit as could be expected based simply on the number of trees.

I shall find out!

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on June 25, 2012  

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  1. 6-25
    5:27
    am

    We love paw paws! It is sometimes hard to get a good fruit crop and then you have to fight off the raccoons and possums that love them too. I wish you a bountiful paw paw harvest.

  2. 6-25
    7:13
    am

    :shimmy: “Pickin up PawPaws, put em in your pocket, pickin up PawPaws put em in your pocket, pickin up PawPaws put em in your pocket, way down yonder in the PawPaw patch” I learned the song in grade school but never knew what a PawPaw was! Thanks for the info! :shimmy:

  3. 6-25
    7:37
    am

    Can the tree be grown in a pot? I live in Massachusetts and I woulnd’t think it could tolerate our winters.

  4. 6-25
    8:03
    am

    I don’t know, re growing it in a pot. Pawpaw trees are usually about 25 feet, so I’m not sure it would be able to grow large enough in a pot to fruit.

  5. 6-25
    8:41
    am

    I can’t wait to see what they look like. I’ve never seen a pawpaw. I love foraging for wild edibles. All the work is done for me- no weeding, watering, or fussing– and I get the fruit of my non-labor. :hungry:

  6. 6-25
    9:08
    am

    i grew up in new guinea where they also had pawpaws, and then hawaii where they had what seemed a smaller version which was called a papaya, so i always presumed they were a tropical fruit. now, in CA, they import them from Mexico. i had never realized that W VA grew them natively – that is so interesting. does VA? i suppose for lewis and clark to have eaten them they must be everywhere :)

    if we move back to that coast (which i dearly miss) i shall be sure to plant a few specifically as you’ve done as they seem so versatile; i’ve never seen them used in baking recipes but i can see how now – thanks! when firm, they go well in curries, etc. though i’ve always thought they are delic with just a healthy spritz of lime! i’m salivating now… poor keyboard.

  7. 6-25
    9:22
    am

    Missouri has pawpaw trees but you rarely find one. We had them is southern Ohio…but then that’s right next to West Virginia. I can’t ever remember anyone doing anything with them except eating them fresh…straight from the tree.
    Maybe they will be fruiting in Sept in time for the picnic on the farm.

  8. 6-25
    9:29
    am

    There’s a quaint small town in the WV Eastern Panhandle (Morgan County)named PawPaw.

  9. 6-25
    9:37
    am

    And here’s all you might want to know about PawPaws, inclduing recipes: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ksu-pawpaw/cooking.html

  10. 6-25
    10:31
    am

    I think I recall my mother talking about pawpaw jelly. Which also means you could make jam. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, though.

  11. 6-25
    10:39
    am

    Jam uses the actual fruit, rather than the juice, and like banana, pawpaw is dense, so I wouldn’t use it in a jam unless mixed with other fruit (such as banana split jam). Since jelly only uses the juice, I’m sure that would be fine!

  12. 6-25
    11:12
    am

    Suzanne,

    i found a site that shows about hand pollinating your pawpaws for greater yield. Very interesting.

    http://www.apiosinstitute.org/asimina-triloba-pawpaw

    Can’t wait until September to see your harvest.

  13. 6-25
    11:25
    am

    Where, oh where is dear little Danny?
    Where, oh where is dear little Danny?
    Where, oh where is dear little Danny?
    Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

    Come on girls, let’s go find him,
    Come on girls, let’s go find him,
    Come on girls, let’s go find him,
    Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

    Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
    Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
    Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
    Way down yonder in the paw-patch.

    Where, oh where is dear old Nellie?
    Where, oh where is dear old Nellie?
    Where, oh where is dear old Nellie?
    Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

    Come on boys, let’s go find her,
    Come on boys, let’s go find her,
    Come on boys, let’s go find her,
    Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

    Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
    Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
    Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
    Way down yonder in the paw-patch.

    Where, oh where is dear little Jimmy?
    Where, oh where is dear little Jimmy?
    Where, oh where is dear little Jimmy?
    Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

    Come on girls, let’s go find him,
    Come on girls, let’s go find him,
    Come on girls, let’s go find him,
    Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

    Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
    Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
    Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
    Way down yonder in the paw-patch.

  14. 6-25
    11:33
    am

    When I was a young girl living in WVA, there was a pawpaw tree near my home. When they were ripe I would sit under the tree and eat so many I would go home sick. Soon as I walked through the door my Mom took one look at me and said “you been eating them pawpaw’ again haven’t you?” To this day I love over ripe bananas.

  15. 6-25
    2:09
    pm

    I never cared for pawpaws when I was young but I can eat one now and then when I can find some, Dad used to love them until one night they poisoned him so you couldn’t get him to try them again which I can’t blame him. Around here you have to beat the deer to the ones they can reach, maybe you have less deer population than we have here around Aberdeen, Ohio.

  16. 6-25
    2:45
    pm

    Having grown up in Paw Paw, Michigan… graduated from Paw Paw High School, I can tell you that Paw Paws will probably grow okay in Massachusettes, Kelly! They do ripen and spoil REALLY fast… like half the time of a banana… and when they are falling off the tree they are ripe! So, mashing them and freezing for later is an excellent idea, but also why the local grocery store and most Farmer’s Markets won’t carry the fruit.

  17. 6-25
    6:37
    pm

    The main reason you don’t see them in the stores are that people like them so much that when they come in everyone grabs them up for themselves. There is never an overabundance in this area. Once in a while you can find a neighbor to share. But most people keep their ‘stash’ a secret. Once in 1976 they were so plentiful that a small store in Clay Co had them for sale. That is the only time I have ever see a Paw Paw for sale. Oh how I LOVE Paw Paws!!! :snoopy:

  18. 6-26
    1:43
    pm

    We have a lot of paw paw groves here on our farm in Missouri. I was not familiar with them and think maybe they are an acquired taste. But a little goes a long way for me anyway. I did find that the paw paw ice cream was exceptionally popular with people who were local and more familiar with the fruit. Get them right as they fall from the tree — before something else does!

  19. 6-26
    7:39
    pm

    I’ve lived in WV all my life and have never ever taken to Paw Paws. (yuck!) But give me a good ripe persimmon any day. :yes:

  20. 6-28
    8:29
    pm

    There was a pawpaw tree in my Grandpa’s farm (in Roane County)….love them!!! We always called them West Virgina Bananas. As for persimmons, the word here is ripe!!!! My Dad always said to wait till after a good frost to eat a persimmon!!!….But they will still get you sometimes….and it is awful..lol

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