Pawpaws, this is your moment! National Pawpaw Day is Sept. 21, and the Ohio Pawpaw Festival in Southeast Ohio is happening Sept. 15-17. If you are unfamiliar with the pawpaw fruit, the National Park Service says it “has the ungainly appearance of a small green potato.”
A few pawpaws have appeared in Oxford’s Farmers Market, as we are now in its very short harvesting season. Bob Rauen, best-known locally for his honey, has had some pawpaws, but Bob says that the harvest is smaller than usual this year.
My first experience with pawpaws, 40 years ago, came from a tree in the front yard of our neighbors Carolyn and Don Auble. Don was incredulous that this big-city boy knew nothing of pawpaws, let alone that they are edible.
We have several pawpaw trees in our woods. They do well around here in part because the foliage is unpalatable to the deer that many of us see feasting in our yards and woods.
However, our trees have never borne fruit. To produce fruit, a pawpaw flower must receive pollen from flowers on a nearby tree. Even if pawpaw trees appear clustered, they may be connected by underground roots, and therefore biologically only a single plant.
Pawpaw fruit around here is usually harvested wild rather than from purposefully planted orchards. My pawpaw-enthralled friend Elena Alberran says that foraging for pawpaws is one of her family’s favorite annual rituals.
A pawpaw can be eaten directly by slicing it in half and scooping out the custard-like flesh. More often, the flesh is used as a substitute for another ingredient in a recipe, most frequently pureed banana.
I checked with Elena recently to find out about her experience at the Ohio Pawpaw Festival. Elena assures me that she doesn’t attend every year, but she rattled off the following foods she has consumed there:
Pawpaw beer, pawpaw pulled pork, pawpaw pad thai, pawpaw pretzels, and pawpaw ice cream. Other foods at the Ohio Pawpaw Festival include pawpaw pancakes, pawpaw waffles, grilled cheese with pawpaws, pawpaw candy, and several kinds of pawpaw cookies.
As intriguing as they sound, I chose to forego preparing any of the above list. Instead, I substituted some pawpaw for banana in a bread recipe. The abundance of local fruit this time of year means that our counter-top bananas are often neglected.
Cream with an electric mixer 1/4 cup room temperature butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1/4 cup creme fraiche, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Add to the mixture 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Stir in 1/2 cup pureed pawpaw and bananas in any combination, plus 1/4 cup chopped walnuts. Mix until just blended. Pour batter in greased loaf pan and bake at 350 for 1 hour.
Pawpaw is Ohio’s official State Native Fruit, so be patriotic. The season is short, and supplies are limited this year, so grab some if you see them.
MOON Co-op is Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery, featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. The store, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. See it online at mooncoop.coop.