Paw-paw time

green paw-paw

You know it’s fall when the paw-paws show up in the produce section.

Yes, you read that right: paw-paws, as in the children’s song:
Where in the world is dear little Susie?
Where in the world is dear little Susie?
Where in the world is dear little Susie?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

The paw-paw is a real fruit that grows on a plant native to North America. It has several tropical relatives, but our paw-paw grows in the eastern U.S. as far north as western New York.

ripe paw-paw (not a potato. really.)

Although botanically classified as berries, paw-paws are about two inches in diameter and four or five inches long, the size of a nice baking potato. A properly ripe paw-paw looks much like a baking potato, too – brown and blotchy like a banana that has gone too far even for bread. Eaten at this stage, paw-paws have a texture like custard and a sweet, slightly fermented flavor that is wholly unique but reminds one faintly of mangoes.

paw-paw seeds

The real trick to eating paw-paw is avoiding the large, flat seeds, which are a deep, glossy brown and very beautiful. (Some folks make jewelry out of them.) The seeds spiral throughout the fruit, making it difficult to cut up neatly. I start at one end and slice it crosswise every 1/3 inch or so, hoping to catch a seed with each slice.

Paw-paw is traditionally made into some kind of cold treat. According to several sources, chilled paw-paw was a favorite dessert of George Washington, and it’s often made into ice cream. I like it in smoothies, and usually freeze it for that purpose. This year I’m going to try it with a banana bread recipe, and one of these days I hope to make an old-fashioned paw-paw cream pie.

Although the fruits themselves don’t last too long, the fruiting season often goes into October, so I’m looking forward to a long, lovely fall filled with paw-paw.

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10 responses to “Paw-paw time

  1. Wow! You have educated me about the paw paw. I’ve heard of it but knew nothing about it and I grew up in Ohio. Thank you for sharing.

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      You’re welcome! And as of last year, the paw-paw is the Official Native Fruit of Ohio. I hope you find yourself in a position to try it sometime.
      Thanks for reading. 🙂

  2. I’ve never heard of the paw paw. Do you think they have it up this way? The only paw paw I know of is the paw paw Riley gives me when she wants to go out. LOL!

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      I’ve heard from a couple people who weren’t familiar with the song, let alone the fruit. I’m astounded! I thought EVERYONE sang that song in elementary school. I seem to recall some kind of choreography that goes with it, too, something like Red Rover with groups in circles and such.

      Anyway, I would think that paw-paws might once have grown in your area, but I don’t know if they still do. Because they are understory trees, they tend to disappear when the forests are cleared for farmland, which is what happened to all the original forests around you a couple centuries ago. A quick internet search didn’t turn up anything closer than Pennsylvania; I’ll just have to bake you some bread and send it to you. 🙂

      Give Riley an affectionate “paw-paw” from me!

  3. Thanks, Jennifer. I’ve known the poem, song, since I was a child, but never knew what a paw-paw was. Wish I could try one. Thanks for the education.
    Nancy

  4. Jennifer, wondering how you did your banana paw paw bread recipe, and how it turned out. All the recipes I see call for substituting the paw paw for the banana, but I would like to try to do one with both. Any suggestions?

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      Thanks for reading, Allison! I did indeed make some paw-paw bread with my usual banana bread recipe, simply using the same quantity of paw-paw as I would banana. It was pretty yummy, with that fabulously tropical paw-paw aroma and delicate paw-paw flavor. You’re thinking of using both paw-paw and banana, together? I would try it 50-50 the first time and make adjustments from there. It also might be good to start with a recipe that doesn’t call for flavorings other than vanilla (such as cinnamon) so you can focus on getting the right flavor balance between the fruits. Let me know how it turns out!

  5. that sounds pretty good pawpaw pie. i wonder if what i had was pawpaw seeds or where they persimmon seeds they where flat and brown tap root was white and black.

    • I’ve not seen any paw-paw roots, from germinated seed or otherwise, so I can’t speak to that. The seeds of persimmons and paw-paw do look an awful lot alike, even though they are not at all related. Since both are native to the same areas, maybe this is an example of convergent evolution, where unrelated species in the same environment come up with remarkably similar strategies or structures. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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