[NAFEX] Papaws: A fruit more forgotten than forbidden

mIEKAL aND qazingulaza at gmail.com
Thu Sep 8 10:46:17 EDT 2011

(never seen pawpaw spelled that way before..)

Papaws: A fruit more forgotten than forbidden

For a fruit that doesn’t fall far from the tree, the apple has sure
gotten around. Thank the itinerant 19th-century orchardist John
Chapman, known as Johnny Appleseed, for planting this import in much
of the country and making it as American as Mom — at least in pie.

But what about our delectable native fruit, the papaw? Although it
once thrived throughout the eastern United States, only a small
percentage of Americans have ever tasted it, and those who have even
heard of it tend to confuse it with the tropical papaya, which it
definitely is not. Cold-hardy but tropical-tasting, it looks a bit
like a mango, but with pale yellow, custardy, spoonable flesh and
black, shiny, easy-to-remove seeds.

According to my friend Jennifer Kline, it’s no surprise that a crop
growing right under our noses is so obscure. “Something has to be a
supermarket staple for people to know it exists,” she says. And the
easily bruised papaw is too fragile a product for long-distance

As a young horticulturist, Kline has made it her mission to get this
treasure into people’s back yards. The modern-day Jenny Papawseed was
born in Mansfield, Ohio, a town where the famous Johnny lived from
time to time and did much of his work. She now works at the Queens
Botanical Garden in New York (as a compost specialist).

“I want to spread papaws everywhere because they were everywhere,” she
explains. Once-abundant wild populations declined as forests were
cleared, and many would-be growers do not realize that these
understory plants, which grow in thickets, do best in a wooded
setting. (Even the village of Paw Paw, Mich., has few of them now,
since the trees that once lined the Paw Paw River were cut down.)

By growing trial plots at the botanical garden, a community garden and
her parents’ home in Mansfield, Kline proved to herself the papaw’s
preference for partial shade and its suitability for today’s small,
shaded yards. Plant more than one variety to ensure good pollination,
she advises. Feed them plenty of compost and they will thrive,
unimpaired by insect pests that bother other fruits — the apple, for

Kentucky State University has compiled a list of mail-order nurseries
that sell young trees. Forrest Keeling Nursery in Elsberry, Mo.,
(www.forrestkeeling.com) sells the improved selections of West
Virginia papaw breeder and guru Neal Peterson.

If you’d like to take a bite first, you’re in luck, because the short
papaw season began in late August and lasts through September. Papaws
show up at local farmers markets: Local grower Stanton Gill plans to
have them available this weekend at the Kensington Farmers’ Market on
Saturday and the Olney Farmers and Artists Market on Sunday. If you
don’t find them locally, make a note to order a box from Heritage
Foods USA (www.heritagefoodsusa.com). Another source of shipped fruit
is Integration Acres in Albany, Ohio (www.integrationacres.com). If
you want the full papaw experience, head to Albany for the Ohio Pawpaw
Festival, to be held Sept. 16 to 18.


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