I’ve always loved the idea of living off the land. After all, our ancestors did it as they crossed the nation to pursue their manifest destiny (and oh, there was that free land too!). Of course, in today’s world it would be very difficult to totally live off the land – unless you own some.
We do, but it is only 6 acres. On those 6 acres there are turkey (a family of 9 this year), American white tail deer (way too many for my garden), squirrels, raccoons, possums and wild cats. There are also multitudes of black walnut trees, a few persimmons and the ubiquitous Paw Paw tree.
Our Paw Paw trees are really more of a bush. They grow to a max height of about 20 feet and have lovely large leaves. In the fall, they produce potato sized green fruit. The fruit ripens and disappears fast. One day you can be walking through the woods and see all kinds of fruit hanging from the tree, totally green. The next day, the fruit is gone – usually snatched by the wild life.
This year, today in fact, I got there first! It is Paw Paw days around here – they occur in late September in our area. On my morning walk, I started noticing that some perfect samples were just laying on the ground waiting for me to pick them up. So I did. I found about a peck full.
After my walk, I brought one in the house and carefully washed the entire fruit. Paw Paws bruise very easily. They are a bit like the over ripe pear, with the interior soft consistency of an avocado. I used the internet to look up recipes, nutrition information and also how to eat them fresh.
Paw Paws are a native American tree, growing naturally in over 25 states from Florida to southern Ontario to Kansas. The native American Indians, European settlers and the Lewis and Clark expedition have all relied on this sweet and nutritious fruit. President Thomas Jefferson raised them at Monticello and shipped the seeds overseas to show off this American jewel.
Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension describes the nutritional value as follows:
“Pawpaw has three times as much vitamin C as apple, twice as much as banana, and one third as much as orange. Pawpaw has six times as much riboflavin as apple, and twice as much as orange. Niacin content of pawpaw is twice as high as banana, fourteen times as high as apple, and four times as high as orange.
Pawpaw and banana are both high in potassium, having about twice as much as orange and three times as much as apple. Pawpaw has one and a half times as much calcium as orange, and about ten times as much as banana or apple. Pawpaw has two to seven times as much phosphorus, four to twenty times as much magnesium, twenty to seventy times as much iron, five to twenty times as much zinc, five to twelve times as much copper, and sixteen to one hundred times as much manganese, as do banana, apple, or orange.
The protein in pawpaw contains all of the essential amino acids. Pawpaw exceeds apple in all of the essential amino acids, and it exceeds or equals banana and orange in most of them.”
How to prepare a Paw Paw to eat fresh.
I carefully washed the skin using dish soap and water – as I do any fruit – and rinsed well. Then I slit the fruit lengthwise and twisted the two halves apart.
A Paw Paw is loaded with large brown seeds. I used a grapefruit spoon to coax them out and then put them aside for the compost heap. All you do then is scoop out the pulp – which is yellow when fully ripe.
The fruit has a delicate smell – with hints of pineapple. The texture inside is a bit like a ripe banana or avocado. The taste is a cross between banana, mango, and pineapple – a bit more tropical and flavorful than a banana – and very sweet! Yum.
Where to use Paw Paws.
Since they ripen all at once and go bad within a day or two, you might want to cook up some Paw Paw bread or pudding or cookies. Kentucky State University has a bunch of recipes. I’m going to try to make the bread.
You can also scrape out the pulp and freeze it in recipe sized freezer bags – which is what I did. One cup of pulp took about 4 largish fruits to fill. I didn’t strain or puree prior to freezing as I will do that when I get read to cook with it.
If you want to beat the squirrels and other critters to the fruit, you can pick it a bit green and ripen it as you would other fruits – by putting it in a brown paper bag for awhile. You can even save the green fruit in the frig for a while and then ripen it up.
Where to get Paw Paws.
Although some growers are now starting to produce this fruit commercially, it is not widely available in typical grocery stores. If you live in a state where it grows, make friends with someone with land and ask permission to go Paw Paw hunting in early fall. Sometimes you can find it at farmer’s markets as well.
I’m glad I finally beat the critters to our Paw Paws and if my bread turns out yummy, I’ll be picking from the tree and ripening indoors next year so I can get more of this good and good for you fruit.
Have you eaten Paw Paws?