Saturday, September 5, 2009

Its a pawpaw!

I just discovered an amazing new fruit and after searching the Internet for two days I can now tell you that... (drum roll)... its a pawpaw! I was hiking through the woods on Belle Island the other day wishing I had again remembered to wear bug spray when I discovered this mysterious fruit. However, before I go any farther I have to tell you about Bell Isle because the history of the place is fascinating. Belle Isle is a beautiful small island in the middle the James River not far from downtown Richmond that was a prison for Union soldiers back during the civil war. Thousands of Northern men died there from hunger and the elements in terrible conditions from 1863-1865. The park is lovely with rocks to lay on at the rivers edge, the river to swim and kayak in, and trails to hike, but its kinda spooky when you take into account the history.

Now, back to my story... as I was making my way through an extremely overgrown, wooded patch of trail my nose detected a very strong, tropical and fruity scent. The aroma was almost overwhelming in the dense, green forest and there up ahead of me on the path I saw what looked to be an unripe banana. Not the kind of banana that you find in the US, but the smaller ones that are found elsewhere. And the source of the smell? That would be the overripe, purple banana-like fruit rotting in the sun. I picked up a small light green one. It was soft to the touch and my finger slid right through the skin and into juicy, orange colored flesh. Inside were black seeds all about the size of lima beans. I had never seen a fruit that looked remotely like this, but I had a strong feeling it was a edible. Well, I was hoping it was because the sweet fragrance was almost intoxicating. A cousin of mango I thought... maybe with many seeds instead of one? I wasn't sure, but one thing I did know was not to eat a wild fruit I couldn't identify. So, instead of taking a bite I picked a few off a gangly tree with large leaves and hightailed it back to the car.

So, now finally as I sit here eating the creamy, custard like flesh with a spoon and delighting in the fact that I identified a wild fruit, I can tell you with confidence that it is a pawpaw. To me the pawpaw tastes like a mix of melon and persimmon, to my boyfriend its kiwi, melon, and strawberry custard. My research tells me that that pawpaws can be found from NY to Florida and as far west as Nebraska. They are most common in the Carolinas, the Virginias and Kentucky, which is why another name for a pawpaw is the West Virginia Banana. The pawpaw is nutritious; high in vitamin C, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium and zinc. Surprisingly, it is also a relative of the cherimoya and another mysterious fruit I wrote about as my very first blog, the guanabana.

That's all good, but what I want to know is why have I never seen this delicious fruit before? Not once have I seen it in a supermarket. Or even a farmer's market! It's the largest edible fruit found in North America! How have we all never even heard of it? The answer seems to be that the soft, ripe pawpaw's brusibility is a liability. Commercial growers just don't think it's worth being cultivated. I have to disagree with that. I'm kinda obsessed so I guess I'm doing my pawpaw shopping at the park for now on. Well at least until October because that marks the end of pawpaw season.

Remember the Paw Paw Bears? A cassette tape/ story book I used to listen to as a kid was my only association to pawpaws as of yesterday.

Baloo knows what a pawpaw is even if you or I dont!

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