Pawpaws are a curious fruit, little known to most of us, even though they have a long history in North America. The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to the United States and its natural habitat lies in the temperate woodlands of the eastern United States. The pawpaw is most commonly found near riverbanks and in the understory of the fertile eastern US forests.
A Little Pawpaw History
For centuries, pawpaws have been a delicious food source for Native Americans, European explorers, settlers and wild animals.
Native Americans are credited with spreading the pawpaw across the eastern U.S. to eastern Kansas and Texas, and from the Great Lakes almost to the Gulf of Mexico. The earliest report of pawpaws was documented in 1541 by de Soto, who found Native Americans actively cultivating it east of the Mississippi.
It's hard to overstate the importance of pawpaws to the early pioneers. As the first settlers left the settled colonies and pushed westward, they often subsisted on wild game and on the highly nutritious pawpaws that grew abundantly. In the fall of 1810, Lewis and Clark depended almost entirely on wild pawpaws and nuts when their rations ran low and game was scarce.
History also tells us that pawpaws were well known to our founding fathers. It's documented that George Washington was fond of pawpaw fruit, and pawpaws were among the many plants Thomas Jefferson cultivated at his beloved Monticello.
It's hard to understand how, over the years, the pawpaw fell into obscurity and was replaced by more familiar cultivated fruits, such as apples, pears and cherries. Fortunately for us, the pawpaw is making a comeback.
Today, more than 50 commercial nurseries market pawpaw seeds or trees in the US and there are more than 27 varieties currently available. The pawpaw Foundation at Kentucky State University is actively working to revive the fruit by promoting scientific research in the areas of pawpaw breeding, growing, managing, harvesting, and use.
Thanks to the efforts of growers and researchers - and the many pawpaw lovers in rural areas of the central east, where pawpaws never fell out of favor - we can still enjoy this noble American fruit today.
Fully ripe pawpaws last only a few days at room temperature, but may be kept for a week in the refrigerator. Allow fruit to finish ripening at room temperature before eating. Never eat the skin or seeds.
Storing and Serving Pawpaws
Fresh pawpaws are only in season for a short time in early-to-mid September.
While pawpaw fruits are highly perishable, they do refrigerate well. They may be stored at standard refrigerator temperatures for about a week if fully ripe and if underripe, for almost 3 weeks ripening at room temperatures.
Once fully ripened, pawpaw fruit can only hold for 2 to 3 days at room temperature. If the fruit is allowed to continue to ripen, the skin develops blotches and gradually darkens to an overall dark color. In the process, the flavor deepens, developing caramel tones.
Many people prefer their pawpaws ripened this way - and some swear it's the only way to eat pawpaws.
Pawpaw RecipesSince many components of pawpaw flavor are highly volatile, the best pawpaw recipes involve little or no cooking. Here is a selection of our favorite pawpaw recipes from the Earthy Delights Recipe Blog. We hope you will enjoy them!