Yesterday, I was walking home from a friend’s house in the South Side Flats, on the way up the hill Ella and I came across Paw Paws! (Asimina triloba)
We couldn’t believe it: just that morning we were hiking in Frick Park searching for some, to no avail.
Paw paws are a delicious, native, tropical fruit, that actually grow up into Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan…I think even in Toronto! Hardly anyone knows about them, because they have such a short shelf life that they can’t be sold in supermarkets (though if you’re lucky, you may find them at a Farmer’s Market, as we did recently in Charlottesville, VA.)
Now is the time of year, and when they have just fallen naturally from the tree (as above), you’ll find the fruit to be soft and delicious.
The inside of the fruit is bright yellow, with large hard dark seeds. Here is one that Dave cut open:
The taste is similar to a mix of a banana and mango, and very flowery (though there are many types, or cultivars, each tasting a bit different.) You actually need two trees of different cultivars together to get fruits. In this yard, there were three trees growing in a row (below are two.)
You don’t eat the skin or seeds, the seeds are big, round and black, and are quite easy to avoid. When you find them this ripe, you can just pull them open and eat the flesh right out, spitting the seeds (or eating around them.) Tomorrow, I’ll show you in detail how I made a delicious slushie with the paw paws.
Up close you’ll see the leaves are large and tropical-looking leaves (they are described as “alternate, deciduous, simple, 7-12 in long, 3-5.5 in wide, usually broadest near tip” by Elias and Dykeman in Edible Wild Plants.)
The fruits look a bit like mangoes, are light green and grow in clusters from the trees. They soften when they are ripe, and naturally fall off the tree. They then turn yellow and brown as they ripen further.
To propagate paw paw from seeds, keep the seeds moist, and they need a cold time (cold, wet stratification), at least 100 days in the refrigerator, before they’ll sprout. You can keep them packed in sphagnum moss or peat moss in a plastic bag in the fridge. (Or, you can plant them in the ground in the fall, and hope, and let the cold moist stratification happen naturally.)
Dave and I found some tiny seedlings at the foot of these trees, and they already had quite a long taproot. Paw paws are usually found in bottomlands, in rich deep soil along rivers. We transplanted these to our yard, but also put seeds in the ground nearby (and some in the fridge) in the hopes at least a few will take.
Tomorrow, I’ll show you how I made this delicious Paw Paw Slushie: