Category: Fresh and Dried Fruit
The pawpaw fruit (Asimina triloba) is also known as the custard apple, cherimoya, sweetsop, ylang-ylang, soursop or false banana. It has an oblong shape and ranges from 3 - 15 cm in length and width and usually weighing 200 - 400 g. The exterior of the fruit is a green skinned berry with an orange yellow pulp and two rows of brown seeds. The seeds and skin are not generally consumed. When ripe, the fruit will have a strong but pleasant aroma, and a creamy and custard-like consistency. The flavor is described as a combination of several tropical fruits, typically mango, pineapple and banana, though this can also include melons and berries. Furthermore, flavor and texture alter between cultivars. The fruit is used in desserts such as fruit leathers, puddings, marmalades, jams, and ice creams. Historically, it was also fermented into wines and beers. There are also references to the medicinal properties associated with the plant, such as its alkaloid qualities.
In the United States, the earliest recorded notes detailing the pawpaw plant are those taken by the European explorers traveling with De Soto in 1541, who indicate that the pawpaw was being consumed by Native American tribes through its propagation and domestication in communities as far south as the Gulf Coast of Florida and north to the Carolinas. It also has been found stretching northwards up to the Canadian border of southern Ontario and west towards Nebraska. During the period of English colonization in the United States, many pawpaws were rooted out to allow clear cutting and planting of other crops, such as grains. In spite of this, the pawpaw became an established part of American rural life, as can be seen in its frequent placement in poetry, songs, and place names (towns, townships, creeks and rivers) throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. One example can be found in the traditional folk song "Pawpaw Patch" with lyrics of, "Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch."
The pawpaw is also frequently referred as a "fail safe" food product, being a provision for when other crops failed. Several historical documents mention how the wild pawpaw, alongside other wild foods, was eaten during times of scarcity, and even reference how the explorers Lewis and Clark were able to use this plant to survive on their 1810 expedition in America. Recently there have been efforts to restore the cultivation of this plant as recognition of its culinary and cultural significance has grown. In 1988, the Peterson Pawpaw Foundation was started in West Virginia, and began to commercially cultivate pawpaw plants. Today, the Foundation is still active and is selling six varieties of pawpaw rootstocks. However there is still limited circulation of pawpaw seeds, plants and fruit, and extremely limited knowledge of the plant and fruit threaten its existence.