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Pawpaw: the fruit America forgot

Cluster of pawpaw fruit
flickr user Wendell Smith

There is a fruit native to North America that is plentiful and was for a long time quite popular.

But chances are, you’ve never tasted it.

The pawpaw has a custard-like flesh that tastes a little like banana and mango and, if you’re lucky, you can find it at a farmers market right now.

In his new book, Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, Andrew Moore seeks to reacquaint American eaters with the nutritious bounty right in their backyards.

Moore tells us that the pawpaw was a much bigger part of the American diet back when we relied more on foraging to sustain ourselves.

“We went to the woods for a lot of things, for fruits, nuts, animals, all kinds of things,” he says. “When Americans stopped going to the woods for food, we stopped knowing about the pawpaw.”

The pawpaw tree is “striking and beautiful,” according to Moore. It takes on a pyramidal shape when planted in full sunlight, and has long, broad leaves that are “among the largest in the eastern forests,” Moore says.

He adds that around this time of year, the tree’s foliage takes on a bright, vibrant yellow color, “so it really stands out in the woods.”

Check out the pawpaw's characteristic creamy yellow flesh and large, dark seeds
Credit Lester Graham
Check out the pawpaw's characteristic creamy yellow flesh and large, dark seeds

Pawpaw trees are most commonly found growing alongside rivers and streams, which he says explains the several rivers and streams you’ll find around the country named after the tree.

Moore tells us that because the pawpaw is both native and hardy, it can be grown entirely organically.

“Thus far it doesn’t have pests and disease like our apples and peaches do, so it can be grown without the use of chemicals,” he says.

According to Moore, pawpaws are also nutritionally dense. He tells us they’re high in potassium and niacin, and are packed with vitamins and antioxidants.

Moore thinks that due to the fruit’s hardiness and nutritional value along with the growing public acceptance of organic foods, pawpaws stand a good chance of making a comeback soon.

“The current climate, the locavore movement, the slow food movement, all of this bodes extremely well for the pawpaw,” he says.

In fact, the pawpaw might be tailor-made for the local food market. Moore says they don't have the shelf life a lot of other fruits do and wouldn't really do well on a trip across the country, so you'll be most likely to find pawpaws at your local farmers markets.

Andrew Moore tells us more about the pawpaw’s history and possible resurgence in our conversation above.

– Ryan Grimes, Stateside

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