Autumn is my favorite time of year, and one reason is I get to eat my favorite fruit. The tropical-looking, very odd pawpaw (Asimina triloba) grows right here in the forests the Midwest.
When the soft green skin is peeled off, creamy yellow flesh is revealed with consistency between a soft banana and custard. When fully ripe the pawpaw can practically be eaten with a spoon. One fruit is a dessert all its own. The taste is somewhere mixed between banana, mango and pineapple all in one.
Pawpaws are small understory trees that thrive in rich, moist soil and grow about 12 to 25 feet tall. They have large leaves that are about 10 to 12 inches long. In spring, the flowers are magnificent. I love to see them on my spring walks as they are often the first colors in the woods. Pawpaw flowers are about 1 to 2 inches across, in a rich red-purple or maroon when mature with six petals. The flowers often arrive before any other tree has any leaves, including the pawpaw. The flowers hover upon slender branches like ruby gemstones on candelabra.
According to research at the University of Kentucky, "Pawpaw has three times as much vitamin C as apple, twice as much as banana, and one-third as much as orange. Pawpaw has six times as much riboflavin as apple, twice as much as orange. Niacin content of pawpaw is twice as high as banana, fourteen times as high as apple, and four times as high as orange."
Pawpaw has a higher mineral content than all of the other fruits, some by more than ten times. The minerals mentioned include, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese; pawpaws also have all essential amino acids. The list goes on and on.
A couple of important things to remember with any wild fruits: First, ensure you have a knowledgeable person with you to identify the fruit. Not everyone can eat them. Be cautious at first. Try only a bite or two, to ensure your system can tolerate the fruit. A few people have reported a stomach ache after eating pawpaws. Second, pick only fruits on land that you own, or where you have permission. Third, do not dig up wild pawpaw trees. Pawpaws grow in patches because they are often linked together. They have long taproots and do not transplant well. Not even professionals can get them to transplant. So don’t try it.
If you would like to try the fruit, the best place to locate pawpaws is most likely farmers markets. (I ask vendors at these markets to be ethical people and not forage on private lands.)
Finally, I will save my seeds and mail some to the first readers who request them. Happy Trails!
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. You can reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net, or follow her on Instagram at TheGreenSpaceKC.