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Foragers’ delight: new pawpaw cookbook for the native fruit

A pawpaw hanging from a branch
Agricultural Research Service

Pawpaws are the largest fruit native to North America. Members of the custard apple family, they grow along the Mid-Atlantic region. They have a tropical taste, and they’re one of the Midwest’s best kept secrets.

“It will offer you sensations of mango, banana, citrus, pineapple in combinations you've not expected before,” said Sara Bir, chef and cookbook author.

Many Midwesterners are only vaguely familiar with the pawpaw, if at all. Even Bir, who grew up in Ohio, didn’t learn of their existence until she was an adult.

“I was hiking out in the woods...and I saw this bright orange, yellow, fruity thing smashed open in the middle of the trail. And I was so confused and intrigued by it.”

Even today, that intrigue remains. Bir is at the forefront of pawpaw’s rising popularity.

Her newest work, The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook, is a guide for navigating the obscure fruit, containing delicious and creative ways to work the pawpaw into a variety of dishes.

However, that’s not to say the pawpaw can’t be enjoyed on it’s own.

“You can and should tear it apart with your hands. The tender flesh will be pale yellow to deep saffron. The aroma will let you know if it's ready to eat,” Bir said, reading from her book. “It will hold large, dark, gleaming seeds. Work the flesh out of the skin, raise it to your lips and slurp.”

Bir’s cookbook is brimming with elaborate ways to eat the pawpaw—from cheesecake to condiments. Check out some excerpts from her conversation with Stateside below.

General Strategy

“I found them really tricky to use in the kitchen, because once you heat pawpaw pulp, all of those wonderful tropical notes dissipate and there's a funky back note that starts asserting itself. Some people love that funky back note, but I don't think it's broadly appealing. So my general strategy is to use them in uncooked dishes or to cook a base and then add the pawpaw pulp.”

Pawpaw Lassis

“Pawpaws and dairy just sing together there. There's something about them, especially acidified dairy. So I make a pawpaw lassi. And instead of yogurt, I add buttermilk. There's something about the custardiness of the pawpaw pulp. And in that creamy dairy, they just complement each other so well. Adding a little extra citrus zest also makes pawpaw just delicious.”

Pawpaw Mayonnaise

“One combination that really surprised me was pawpaw mayonnaise. I was, for a client, testing a homemade mayonnaise recipe and I had all this mayonnaise around during pawpaw season. And I thought, what would it be like if I added a little pawpaw pulp to this? And it turns out it's delicious. I only added a little bit. It's not like half pawpaw and half mayonnaise. It's just enough to make it interesting.”

Banana Pawpaw Ketchup

“My current favorite is also sort of a left field entry, and that is the banana pawpaw ketchup. So that's based on a Filipino style ketchup made with bananas instead of tomatoes. I would say it's analogous to ketchup, like Heinz ketchup, but really not at all. It's kind of its own beast. So it's a pretty sweet savory sauce you can put on things. And I really like it with rice and tofu and bok choy.”

Key Lime and Paw Paw Pie

“I would say it softens that harsh lime taste, and I don't mean harsh in a bad way. There's so much liveliness and perkiness with limes. And as I said before, any time you're pairing pawpaw with citrus, it's a win. It just wakes up all of those tropical fruit flavors in the pawpaw and...mm. It's also custardy, right? I keep on talking about the custardiness of the pawpaw, but when you're using it in a custard recipe, it's just a perfect marriage.”

You can find out more about the book here.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Lucas Polack.

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