Have you ever tried a pawpaw? They're right at the end of their growing season, but in some parts of the Midwest you can still find them at farmers markets. They are a fruit native to the United States, but they don't ship well and they're quite different than the more familiar Midwest crops of apples and pumpkins. We have been so curious about these Ohio fruits, hidden in plain sight, so we finally tracked some down.
The pawpaw is a rather ugly fruit. It's about the size of a fist, with mottled green skin. It looks and feels a bit like a small green mango, and, like a mango, it needs to ripen almost to the point of disintegration before it is ready to eat.
The pawpaw is related to several tropical fruits, like the cherimoya, soursop, and custard apple. Like those fruits, it has a rich, creamy flesh, like the most smooth and well-cooked pudding you've ever had. It also has huge seeds that look like kidney beans. After these are removed you can scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
And how do they taste? Well, they have a sweet, tangy flavor, with the mellowness of a banana and the slight tang of a sweet kiwi. They're completely delicious, but with a lingering bitter aftertaste. That may have just been the fault of the late-season fruit we had, though we did some research on this and the bitterness seems to be present in many wild pawpaws. Some people make up for this by making the pawpaws into ice cream; this is a popular treat in parts of southwestern Ohio.
Pawpaws are not widely cultivated; they ripen very quickly once picked, so distribution is difficult. If you do get the chance to try it from a tree in your area, do it! It's delicious, with the creaminess you will usually only find in tropical fruit. It's always a little amazing what can be growing in your own backyard.
Related: Ingredient Spotlight: Pawpaws
(Images: Faith Durand)