Sofia is a senior and is Editor-In-Chief of the Globe this year. She started Globe because she is interested in writing and exploring different issues in the Clayton community....
Pawpaws are the largest edible fruit native to North America! So why haven't many people heard of it?
October 26, 2020
“Do you see it? It’s supposed to be in the front of the garden.”
My mom and I continued walking through the trees, searching for something we’d never seen before.
“Is that it?” I pointed at a tall tree with large teardrop shaped leaves.
“No, there’s no fruit on that one.”
We continued walking until we reached a space under two huge trees. Nestled in between the larger trees was a small tree. Nestled in its branches were a cluster of glorious green fruit.
“I see it! Look, there are pawpaw everywhere!”
The pawpaw is a small deciduous tree native to North America. According to the National Park Service, the pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to North America. But while this fruit is indigenous to the US, most Americans have never heard of it.
According to the Atlantic, the pawpaw was voted the American fruit most likely to become popular by agricultural experts in 1916. But, because it is difficult to grow, doesn’t have as large of a yield as other fruits and has a short shelf life, fruit-growers stopped growing pawpaw and it never came close to the status scientists predicted.
Pawpaws look similar to a mango except they’re green and range in size. The ones I found were about half the size of my palm. On the inside, pawpaws have yellow flesh and large brown seeds running down the center. Many describe the flavor as a mix between banana and mango with hints of pineapple, apple and vanilla. Pawpaws can be eaten raw, cooked in pies and most popularly, made into ice cream.
CHS sophomore Ivy Reed described the taste as “Like a banana-papaya gummy bear, but with a little bit of funkiness, a hint of tartness and a slightly bitter aftertaste.”
Like a banana-papaya gummy bear, but with a little bit of funkiness, a hint of tartness and a slightly bitter aftertaste.”
— Ivy Reed
However, if none of these options sound appealing, you can check out Bulrush STL, a local restaurant that serves modern Ozark cuisine. Bulrush owner and chef Rob Connoley harvests and serves pawpaw in unique ways.
“I prefer to do savory things with it. So I made a big pot of Mexican moly… and [pawpaw] becomes the sweetener,” Connoley said.
Similarly to Reed, Connoley described the pawpaw flavor as having hints of papaya and funk. But, unlike many, Connoley doesn’t taste the banana flavor.
“I hear all the time ‘it’s a mixture of banana and pineapple and mango.’ I guess I understand why you’re saying that and I don’t know that they’re right or I’m right. But I think it’s just our brain saying this is tropical fruit, I don’t know what to do with it. To me, it’s more of a combination of a funky or fermented mango and papaya,” Connoley said.
Connoley’s advice for those looking to harvest their own pawpaw is to look in the low spots in forests. Because pawpaw rot so quickly, the fallen pawpaw has a strong fermented smell that guides foragers to it. Once you find a pawpaw tree, lightly shake it and harvest the fallen fruit. Once you harvest the fruit, cut it open longways around, pull the seeds out and enjoy!
“People go out and gather pawpaw when they’re not ripe and put them in a bag and ripen them in their kitchen. A couple of years ago, my sous chef and I did an experiment. We gathered fresh ones. And then we did a blind side by side taste test. There’s no comparison. Right on the tree is the only way to go,” Connoley said.
As we enter a strange and isolating fall, there’s no better time to connect to our local community. And what better way to connect to Missouri than to eat some pawpaw!