Pawpaws: Pennsylvania’s “Tropical Fruit”

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I’m late to the pawpaw party, but these locally grown fruits are out of this world. Tropical in flavor and texture, fragile and rarified, with a very short harvesting season, they are like custard but healthy.

Indigenous to the northeastern United States (but not the coast), pawpaw season is in full swing from mid September to mid-October. Ripe pawpaws last only a day or so — longer in the refrigerator, but you may compromise some of the taste and texture. They are ready to eat when they are soft to the touch, similar to a mango or a peach. Do not fear brown spots; these indicate ripeness and that means sweetness.

Pawpaws, also called “custard apples,” taste like the result of a mango and a banana having a baby. I discovered them at Sunday’s Head House Farmers’ Market. My favorite farmer, Dave from Beechwood Orchards, had a bin of them on offer and we got to talking. He said they are delicious, but temperamental.

They grow on short, low trees and are harvested from the tree or sometimes from the ground if they have recently dropped. Because they bruise easily, they are difficult to handle and get to market, so it is rare to see pawpaws in supermarkets. Farmers markets and specialists in local produce are the only places to find them.

In terms of nutrition, pawpaws pack a punch. One serving delivers 10 percent of the daily value of fiber, 31 percent of Vitamin C, 10 percent of potassium, 39 percent of iron, and 130 percent of manganese and significant doses of several other minerals.

My preferred way to enjoy them, after two days of steady consumption, is to cut them in half and spoon the sweet, soft flesh rapturously into my mouth. That’s it, nothing fancy, no cooking, pureeing, whipping or roasting.

Regular readers know that I am serious about desserts, but these luscious fruits really do satisfy my sweet tooth. Pawpaws do contain several large pits, but they are easy to spot and avoid. The fruit can be whipped into smoothies, sorbets, ice cream or fool, but that would be gilding the lily.

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