Pawpaws: America's Largest and Most Exotic Fruit
While you’ve probably heard of pawpaws, you may not be quite sure of what they are or where they come from. Let’s just put it this way: if you’ve never experienced the flavor of this amazing fruit, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. If you need more convincing, here are three reasons why pawpaws should be on your shopping list.
1. Pawpaws Taste Great
First, and most importantly, pawpaws are simply delicious. While often described as a blend of banana, pineapple and mango, pawpaws have a taste that is uniquely their own. When allowed to ripen completely, pawpaws develop complex nuances of flavor with notes of tropical fruit, vanilla, cloves and other exotic spices.
Pawpaws don’t have a very long shelf life (usually not much more than a week, even when refrigerated). Their ripening period can be extended by refrigerating them, but to ripen pawpaws to perfection, remove them from the fridge a few days before you plan to eat them. Allow the pawpaws to ripen at room temperature until their skin begins to darken and the fruit becomes quite soft. As they approach their peak of flavor, the entire house will fill with their hauntingly spicy aroma. Your pawpaws are now ready to enjoy!
2. Pawpaws Are Good for You
We jokingly refer to pawpaws as ‘vitamin P,’ but their nutritional value is a fact. Higher in protein than most other fruits, pawpaws are also packed with antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. What’s more, pawpaws are naturally gluten free and non-GMO.
3. You’re Eating a Piece of American History
It’s hard to believe that pawpaws, North America’s largest native fruit, were nearly completely forgotten for several generations. Growing across a huge swath of what is now the eastern United States, pawpaws were once a critically important source of food for both Native Americans and early European settlers. Before Johnny Appleseed brought the apple, there was the pawpaw – delicious, nutritious and free for the taking.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are both known to have cultivated pawpaws. It’s also been recorded that Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition of the West relied on pawpaws for sustenance when other sources of food failed. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the course of American history might have gone very differently if not for the pawpaw!
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Basic Pawpaw Puree
Most pawpaw recipes begin with pawpaw puree. The good news is that it couldn’t be simpler to turn your pawpaws into an easy to use, easy to store puree. Here’s how.
First, make sure that your pawpaws are ripe. Underripe pawpaws are both lacking in flavor and difficult to work with. Once you’re sure your pawpaws are ripe & ready to use, split them lengthwise starting at the stem and following the curve of the pawpaw all the way around – kind of like an avocado. Insert the point of the knife to cut between the seeds as deeply as possible. Now gently twist and pull the two halves of the pawpaw apart, exposing the seeds.
Pop the seeds out (they should come away fairly easily) and discard them or save for planting. Never, ever eat pawpaw seeds or skins – both are toxic to humans. Using a large spoon, scoop the pawpaw pulp from the skins and place into a bowl. Repeat with the rest of your ripe pawpaws.
Place the pawpaw pulp into a food processor and whirl until smooth and creamy. At this point you have a choice: to strain or not to strain. We never strain our pawpaw pulp, but many folks prefer to press the pawpaw pulp through a fine mesh strainer to remove any small bits of fiber. It’s entirely up to you.
Now your pawpaw puree is ready to use or store. If you don’t plan to use it all right away, put the unused portion into a small bowl or container with a piece of plastic wrap pressed against the surface to keep the air out. Use within a day or two or put into a freezer container and freeze for up to a year.
Easy: Pawpaw Fool
- 1 cup very cold heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1/3 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup pawpaw puree (about 1 medium pawpaw)
Prepare pawpaw puree as described above. Next, place the cream into a clean bowl with the sugar (either regular sugar or powdered confectioner’s sugar) and the vanilla extract and whip until stiff enough to hold soft peaks.
Gently fold half (1/2 cup) of the pawpaw puree into the whipped cream until just barely blended. Add the second 1/2 cup of the pawpaw puree to the mixture, folding just 3 or 4 times. The idea is to leave large, attractive swirls of pawpaw puree throughout the mixture. Carefully spoon into serving dishes and chill until ready to serve. Garnish with fresh mint leaves if desired.
Easier: Pawpaw Smoothie
- 1 cup yogurt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup pawpaw puree
Drink your pawpaws! We’re crazy about this ultra-easy, super nutritious way to start the day.
Did we mention that pawpaws LOVE dairy? Tangy yogurt provides the perfect blank canvas for this exotic concoction featuring the tropical fruit flavor of pawpaws. With only three ingredients, it just doesn’t get any simpler than this. Just toss the pawpaw puree, milk and yogurt into a blender and whirl until creamy. Garnish with sliced fruit, fresh berries – or nothing at all. Mmmmm.
Easiest: Fresh, ripe pawpaws
- 1 perfectly ripe pawpaw
- 1 spoon
Many of the old-timers who never forgot about pawpaws swear that this is the only way to eat them. It’s true that nothing tastes better than a perfectly ripe, custardy-smooth pawpaw, just the way Mother Nature made it.
Allow your pawpaw to ripen to perfection (see top of page for details), then slice lengthwise straight down the middle, pulling the two halves apart to separate. Pop out the seeds, then get ready to spoon up the soft, sweet and delicious flesh. Sheer bliss!
Here's how to store & ripen your pawpaws to perfection: