Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) are small trees known for their large leaves and tasty fruit. They are also the only North American / temperate member of a tropical family of trees, Annonaceae or the custard-apple family.
The pawpaw tree is widely distributed, growing wild in 26 states in the eastern United States, ranging from southern Ontario, Canada to northern Florida and as far west as eastern Nebraska. They survive well in the understory of rich, moist hardwood forests as they can tolerate competition and shade very well.
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In recent years the pawpaw has attracted renewed interest, particularly among organic growers, as a native fruit which has few to no pests, therefore requires no pesticide use for cultivation. Many Indiana farmers and landowners look forward to the pawpaw season - fruit mature in late September through mid-October - and you can too. Look for these local, tropical fruit at a market near you.
Is it Ripe Yet?
In the early spring, the pawpaw begins to show its pretty, maroon-colored flowers which give way to clusters of fruit that ripen in the fall. The fruit is a large, light green edible berry with numerous dark seeds. When ripe, it's quite easy to pick. A shake of the tree can bring down several fruits, but a gentle tug will do the trick as well. A ripe pawpaw is soft when squeezed and emits a strong, pleasant aroma. When cut open, the flesh is a bright yellow to yellowish brown.
And the taste? Many people compare the flavor somewhere between a banana, mango and pineapple. Pawpaws are also very nutritious fruits. They are high in vitamins A and C, a good source of potassium and several essential amino acids. It is also reported to be higher in proteins, carbohydrates and minerals than fruits such apples, peaches and grapes.
The taste of the pawpaw does depend on this cultivar. There are several varieties available, most having originated in Indiana. This could be the reason the fruit is commonly known as the Indiana banana. Overleese, Taytwo, Mary (Foos) Johnson and Sunflower are just a few of the more popular cultivars in the United States. The popularity of this unusual fruit has grown in recent years and many more varieties are now available.
Fully ripe pawpaws will only last a few days at room temperature, so it is best to store in the refrigerator. While people prefer to eat the pawpaw as is, many do choose to use it in all kinds of different sweet or savory dishes. To enjoy the flavor of the pawpaw well past its season; remove the skin and seeds, puree and freeze for later use.
Pawpaws can be eaten by itself or used in a number of recipes. Many choose to use the pawpaw as a substitute in recipes that call for bananas. Just don't expect it to taste like one.
The Kentucky State University has complied several pawpaw recipes including pies, cookies and cakes - even ice cream!