Pawpaw: North America’s Largest Native Edible Fruit

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The pawpaw is a native tree usually found growing in colonies and often among other, taller trees in extreme southeastern Nebraska.

The edible fruits are sometimes compared to short, stubby bananas, but are thicker and more rounded. The skin of the ripe fruits is light green or yellow green; the flesh is custard-like.

Pawpaws are easy to prepare: simply cut the fruits in half, then remove the seeds and scoop out the flesh with a spoon, being careful not to scrape in the greenish layer that lines the skin. The flesh should have a pleasant fragrance and be soft but not mushy.

(Cautions: under ripe or overripe pawpaws can cause indigestion, abdominal cramps; seeds and the greenish layer are not edible; handling pawpaws causes some persons to develop a skin rash.)

When I was in graduate school in Kentucky, I learned that the woods were full of pawpaws.

When October came, I placed a note on the department bulletin board that read, “I would appreciate receiving pawpaws and will share the resulting baked goods,” and I signed my name.

In a few days I became rich beyond my dreams — sacks of pawpaws, boxes of pawpaws, and a half-bushel of pawpaws. It was wonderful.

The inside of a pawpaw is soft and gooey.

I baked them and froze them, I made pawpaw cookies and pudding and ice cream and bread.

My fellow students ate it all and gave me serious feedback.

The consensus was that the bread was marvelous and that the rest were good, except the pudding, which they thought was a waste of good pawpaws that could have been made into bread.

Here is the recipe for pawpaw bread. It takes on a pale rosy tint as it bakes.

Pawpaw Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon soda½ teaspoon salt½ cup margarine or butter1 cup granulated sugar2 eggs1 cup mashed pawpaw pulp½ cup nutmeats (hickories if you have them)

• Grease a 9 x 5 x 3 – inch loaf pan with margarine or butter and set it aside.

• Sift the flour, soda, and salt together onto a piece of waxed paper.

• With an electric mixer, cream the margarine or butter until fluffy.

• Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until thick and light.

• Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well.

• Add about half of the dry ingredients and the remaining pulp, again stirring only enough to mix. Add the remaining dry ingredients and the remaining pawpaw pulp in the same way.

• Fold in the nutmeats.

• Bake for 1 hour (at 350 degrees) or until the surface springs back when lightly touched at the center.

• Remove from the oven and allow cooling for about 10 minutes, then loosening the sides with a table knife and then turn the loaf out onto a plate. Cover with a cloth and allow it to cool completely.

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Edited from the entries on Pawpaws and Hickory nuts in Wild Seasons: Gathering and Cooking Wild Plants of the Great Plains by Kay Young. © 1993 by the University of Nebraska Press.

Available wherever books are sold or from the University of Nebraska Press 800.526.2617 and on the web at nebraskapress.unl.edu.

Categories: Harvest

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