Keith D, F&B Director and Forager Extraordinaire!
What a tough summer for a forager. No rain means little grows, and that is especially true when it comes to fungi/mushrooms. Again, it shows that we are under the mercy of the weather & Mother Nature. So goes the ways of a forager. You pick what’s available or wait for a new season to change options. So with no rain, I have been checking and waiting for a fall gem, the PawPaw.
What the heck is a PawPaw? Probably never heard of it, right? How can that be? It has an unusual genus name, Asimina (uh-SIM-min-nuh), probably derived from an Algonquin Indian word where “min” means food. And the word PawPaw is probably a corruption of the American Indian word papya, or version shortened by Spanish. The PawPaw is a native to the temperate woodlands of the eastern U.S., and is actually the largest native North American fruit, and ripens in the fall, usually September and October. It is a deciduous tree that grows 12 to 25 feet, in the Magnolia family, usually close to streams and in low light areas that have a canape of larger trees above. Extremely rich in nutritional value, including high levels of vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, riboflavin, niacin and manganese and is higher in protein and fat than common fruits like bananas, apples, or oranges.
The texture of the PawPaw is like that of a custard, and tastes like a combination of banana and mango, with a hint of melon. The best way to probably eat it is in the woods, where you pick it, rip the skin away, and slurp the pulp, and discard the seeds. It is a gooey sensuous experience. But for culinary use, think frozen or icebox desserts, smoothies or salsas. The flesh oxidizes quickly, and its distinct flavor compounds are volatile, so its best used in recipes that don’t expose it to heat. It also can be used in baking cookies, cakes, and quick breads. It also makes great beer, such as Weasel Paw PawPaw Pale Ale http://www.weaselboybrewing.com/eat-drink/#our-philosphy .
But being good for you doesn’t make them marketable. They bruise easily, last only a few days at room temperature, a week at most under refrigeration. They are also extremely difficult to propagate, though strides are being made. They are starting to show up at some farmer markets, but availability is very limited. So for now, if you want to taste this native delicious tasting fruit, you need to go out and forage for it. I know. I bet you anticipated that I would say that. But, after all, I am a forager. That’s just what I do.
A RIPE PAWPAW CUT IN HALF
For a video on how to forage for PawPaw, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T0tHrfrc8E