Pickin' Up Pawpaws



paw paws in a basket
  • Pawpaws in a basket
It’s pawpaw time in Tennessee. The pawpaw is the fruit of the native (but tropical in history) tree, Asimina triloba. There’s a little song with the chorus, “Pickin' up pawpaws, put 'em in your pockets,” but few people these days seem to know about pawpaws and even fewer have tasted them. But they are quite common and according to fans, quite tasty. When picked ripe, the fruit is described as tasting like a cross between a banana and mango, cantaloupe, or persimmon and with a custardy, luscious texture.

Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? So why aren’t we eating them? Generally speaking, the shelf life for a pawpaw is short. For optimal taste, they should be picked when ripe — that is, when the green skin has turned yellow-brown — and will only be good for one to two weeks after picking, even if refrigerated. And the fruits tend to ripen all at once, making them difficult to sell commercially.

If you want a paw paw, your best bet is to find a friend with a pawpaw tree. This photo was taken by my mother as she collected hers in West Tennessee, but I won’t see her within the next few weeks, so I am pawpaw-less myself. I need to know of a local pawpaw patch.

However, there is a persimmon tree in my neighborhood that I plan to, um, visit soon. The owners of the tree only recently bought their home, so I should probably introduce myself before stealing their fruit. And there are some fruit-bearing trees along 23rd Avenue that look rather tempting, but I don’t know what they are. I suppose it’s time to consult the old copy of Stalking the Wild Asparagus before popping one in my mouth.

Any other found fruit (or sources for found fruit)? I prefer legal sources. I can offer black walnuts, a few crabapples, and some hearty herbs in exchange. Those are the only edibles (aside from dandelions and purslane) the squirrels have left for me on my own property.

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