Friday, September 26, 2014

Pa Rock's Pawpaws

by Pa Rock

I grow two types of nuts on my little farm - hickory nuts (from several trees) and walnuts (from a single tree).  I also manage to grow two types of fruit - pears (from a single tree) which mostly go toward feeding the foraging deer population, and pawpaws.

Not everyone is familiar with the pawpaw (sometimes spelled "paw paw"), but it is a not-too-uncommon fruit that grows on small trees, slender and up to forty feet in height, from America's Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes.   They have been documented in American history back to the 1500's, and Lewis and Clark at times had to use them for subsistence during their long expedition to the northwest.  Thomas Jefferson grew pawpaws at Monticello, and both he and George Washington enjoyed chilled pawpaws as a dessert.

Five states even have local communities named "Paw Paw."

I have five pawpaw trees on my property, all growing in a cluster in a low area where the washing machine drains.  Pawpaws like ground that is often moist.  The trees are about eight-to-ten inches in diameter and approximately twenty feet high.  There are also a few small volunteers nearby that I have been mowing around, so the pawpaw plantation is expanding.

An ex-in-law of mine had a farm down in Arkansas many years ago that sported a pawpaw tree.  I was never there at the right time to enjoy eating one, but she told me that they were commonly referred to as "Arkansas bananas."  One of their many uses is to substitute pawpaws into recipes that call for bananas - especially breads and muffins.

I knew that there was a small pawpaw grove on this farm, and I even saw the fruit coming on - but ignored it as I rushed around meeting the other pressures of keeping things patched together and operational.  Then one evening about a month ago I was standing in the backyard talking to someone when suddenly I smelled the most intoxicating aroma.  It turned out to be the young pawpaw fruit that was maturing in the trees.

I managed to consume a couple of the pawpaws as they reached maturity and began falling from the trees.  They are about the size of pears, with mushy insides and thick skins that remind me of the skins on mangoes.  Pawpaws also have a half-dozen or so large seeds inside of each fruit.  I learned quickly that they rot quickly if left on the ground, and the best practice is to pick the fruit within reach as soon as some start falling.  According to what I have read, the best way to store the mushy middle of the pawpaw is to freeze it.

The pawpaw fruit as well as its seeds smell wonderful.  This year I let most of mine rot before I got to them, but next year I will sit and read in the shade of the pawpaw trees, while breathing in their magnificent aroma, and catch them as they fall!

I have harvested some seeds from this year's crop and would be happy to share them with anyone who would like to try raising pawpaws.   The smell alone is worth the effort of getting a couple started.


Xobekim said...

When you decide to go ahead with a smoker, either a small bullet smoker or a larger offset smoker that can double as a grill, you are in great shape. The oak you piled up in the firewood the other day, walnut, and hickory are all great wood to use in a smoker. The rule of thumb is to use wood from a tree that bears either fruit or nuts. I have never heard of anyone using paw paw wood, you may want to give it a try.

Brenda Kaup said...

Rocky - Brenda Kilby (now Kaup) here - I'm the editor for the Crane Chronicle/Stone County Republican and I would be very interested in reprinting some of your columns. How about it?
For example, would love to have the one about the paw paws for this week. I will give you full credit. We are a small weekly, mostly with Republican readers. I would love to have your take on some of the things Billy Long is saying, to balance it out. Are you game? I can't pay you!!! I wish I could. I will, however, send you personal accolades!
Call me. 417-389-2213