A peek inside the pawpaw
When I wrote last month about adopting a pawpaw tree from a friend of mine, I had no idea that the subject would inspire such a large and enthusiastic response. It turns out that many of you not only know but also grow this little-heard-of fruit tree. It was wonderful to get advice on how to grow and how to eat this North American tropical oddity.
Shelley Johnson McMackin, from Phoenixville, wrote, “We lived in Alexandria, Virginia for 12 years (although I grew up in Chester County), and found a patch of paw paw that we would visit in the fall to try to nab some fruit before the animals did. It grew beside the Potomac in not particularly dry soil, in the lower canopy of some first growth tulip poplars and oaks. So I think your yard spot is probably perfect from our experience. (I will add that the deer loved it, so a heads-up.”
McMackin added, “I too was taught the song — none of my Virginia friends had heard of it, so totally mocked on that, lol.”
Pat Anderson wrote, “Thought you might like to know there is a Paw Paw Museum in Port Deposit, Md. The museum has a paw paw tree in their front yard. There are also stands along both sides of the Susquehanna River. It really is interesting to see and most people have never heard of the paw paws. My daughter lives in the area and likens the fruit to crème brûlée — maybe! I haven’t tasted one for years.”
The conversation moved from fond memories to the present, with an email from Ted Weeden. He wrote, “A friend showed me your Reporter newspaper article,” Weeden wrote. “I belong to BYFG (Backyard Fruit Growers) out of Lancaster area, but I happen to live in Harleysville. I am probably the leading expert on pawpaws in this state. I did represent [Pennsylvania] at the 4th International Pawpaw Conference held at Kentucky State University on September 1st – 3rd.
“I am growing more than 65 full size pawpaw trees in my yard. I have most of the best-
known cultivars and many new ones that are superior then most. I do have about 90 one- and two-yearold hybrid pawpaw trees for sale. My freezer is full of pawpaw fruit, so I eat pawpaws all year long.”
What about the elusive, almost mystical references to the mingled flavors of banana, mango, and pineapple? I didn’t have time to run up to Harleysville, so I was delighted to get an invitation from Karen Reynolds to come pick a few pawpaws from her two large trees in West Chester Borough.
Said Reynolds, “Your article was very timely! I’ve been picking paw paws off the lawn all weekend and experimenting with recipes. I planted the trees from seedlings that I got from a catalog mostly on a whim and because my mom and my grandfather occasionally sang the song.”
The day I visited, Reynolds cut open a fresh, raw pawpaw for me so that I could experience the texture and flavor of the fruit. I can’t say that I was super impressed by either, and the fruits are full of large seeds. But Reynolds cut me a slice of a freshly-baked pawpaw cream pie; it was surprisingly delicious. So was the exotic aroma of the her whole back yard.
The funniest and at the same time the most poignant response was the one from Sharon Richardson, in Chester Springs. She wrote, “I laughed out loud when I read last week’s article about paw paw trees — I’m on my second or third try with them. I am very hopeful that my grandson (18 months) will have an opportunity to eat paw paws, but I’ve tried two before and they each died.”
Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to email@example.com, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Join the conversation at “Chester County Roots,” a Facebook page for gardeners in the Delaware Valley. Go to Facebook, search for Chester County Roots, and “like” the page. To receive notice of updates, click or hover on “Liked” to set your preferences.
The inside of a pawpaw.