The Appalachian folksong "The Paw Paw Patch" - "Where, O where is pretty little Susie? Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch" - celebrates the pawpaw tree and its fruit. Pawpaws are the largest native fruit in North America. The earliest written record of them was made in 1541 by a Portuguese crew member on Hernando de Soto's expedition through the southeastern United States. Later, President Thomas Jefferson had them planted at Monticello, and he even mailed the seeds to his pals in France.
So why have so few people heard of this tasty treat? Well, they're hard to grow, and at room temperature they stay fresh for only a couple of days after harvest. But folks are pushing for their revival. Montgomery County, Maryland, even has an annual pawpaw festival!
The fruit comes in different shapes and sizes, and can resemble a good-sized papaya or an oversized avocado. Under their rough skin, you'll find a gooey, custard-like pulp that, as one chef puts it, "tastes downright tropical; like a riot of mango-banana-citrus."
And they're nutritious: high in vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, iron and essential amino acids. One 3.5 ounce serving has about 80 calories, 1 gram of fat and protein, 18 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fiber.
If you're near the Appalachian Trail this fall, ask a local how to spot a tree or pick up a few fruits at the local market. They used to be very common, but today they're considered an at-risk fruit by Slow Food's Ark of Taste USA catalog.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.