~ September 10, 2023
Whenever we have some free time we love taking walks in our family’s timber. There are a few different hiking trails that have been mapped out, and we enjoy taking our daughter out into the woods and letting her run around, discovering all that the forest has to offer. Over the years, we’ve noticed groves of native Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) popping up along the creek. We had always heard of the elusive and delicious Pawpaw fruit – the “Midwestern Mango,” the “Indiana Banana” – but until recently our groves have been too young to produce any extra that doesn’t get gobbled up by the animals first.
This summer my husband and I have been religiously stalking the groves, knowing that the fruits typically come in late August-Mid September. Zach went around and tagged some trees that looked promising for fruit and we waited. And waited. And waited. Until a few weekends ago when the Pawpaw harvest began! We gathered up some bags and trekked into the forest, giving the Pawpaws a nice shake down to see what fruit fell. After our first day yielded almost one hundred fruits it became a family affair, enlisting my parents and daughter to help in the search for the delicious, custardy treats.
This year we got a few full days of searching in the books – I was nearing the end of my pregnancy and didn’t want to go into labor from shaking a tree (although that would have been a good story to tell!) From our forage we found almost 200 Pawpaws that fell to the ground – many of which were too hard and will be returned to the forest floor to hopefully be eaten by animals and have their seeds spread. But a good amount of fruit was just right – perfectly ripe and ready for us! Many of the Pawpaws we enjoyed as a trail snack; the others we brought home to experiment with. The flavor is hard to describe, it’s somewhere between a banana, mango, and papaya, which checks out since Pawpaws are commonly seen as a “tropical” fruit that is native to the Midwest and Eastern United States. After searching online for recipe inspiration we decided to make a couple batches of Pawpaw ice cream and it was delicious! We even had enough fruit to freeze a few cups of Pawpaw puree for recipes we want to try in the future.
In wanting to learn more about Pawpaws we came across a few great resources: PawPaw Primer – A Look Inside the Wonderful World of PawPaws – From Seed to Table, The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook, Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, and Pawpaws: The Complete Growing and Marketing Guide. These books offer the science and history behind the plant, recipes, and lots of valuable insight into permacultures and food forests. It’s fascinating to read about! Kentucky State University also has a wealth of information about the breeding and growing process of Pawpaw trees. We’ve enjoyed our research so far and have even started collecting some seeds – we’re excited to see where this fun project goes!
As the seasons change and summer is ushered out, we feel lucky to have gotten a piece of the Pawpaw harvest this year. Usually August comes and goes and by the time someone says “oh yeah, the Pawpaws are going!” and by then it’s too late! We’ve enjoyed spending our weekends in the woods and Fern loves helping us by carrying the bags of fruit and picking up the Pawpaws that fell on the ground! She frequently asks us “see Pawpaws? go Pawpaws?” so it’s safe to say that we have a little forager on our hands. I’m certain we’ll be hearing her say “see Pawpaws? go Pawpaws?” continuously until next year, when we can start our search all over again!
~ Maggie Thomas Harper