Pawpaws are like a tropical-flavored last gasp of summer.
This native fruit looks quite exotic and tastes like fruit grown far from Lancaster County. As summer winds down, the area’s pawpaws ripen. They are a rare seasonal fruit that is briefly available at a time when most produce can be purchased year-round.
Development has crowded out many of the local pawpaws, but there are still groves along the Susquehanna River. Pawpaws grow on Lancaster County Conservancy preserves, for example, but the group doesn’t like to share that information because people are eager to take every last fruit.
Pawpaw trees have become popular as a unique fruit tree in the backyard orchard. Patience is required. The trees can take 10 to 15 years before they start fruiting.
Ted Weeden has dozens of cultivars of pawpaws, some of which he created in his home in Montgomery County.
He’ll lead a tour of his property Saturday for Backyard Fruit Growers, a group with its roots in Lancaster County. This year, Weeden’s pawpaws are smaller, and the overall size of the crop is smaller as well. He attributes that to a wet spring, plus high winds that prevented flies from pollinating.
Still, his pawpaws started ripening in late August and will continue through the middle of November, with plenty of variety.
“What makes pawpaw so complex is it has a wide range of flavors,” he says.
What is a pawpaw?
The largest edible native fruit in the United States is in season now. If you didn’t know, that’s probably because pawpaws are called America’s forgotten fruit.
Depending on the variety, pawpaws taste like banana, mango, caramel custard or even orchids.
This fruit is found along the East Coast and in the Midwest. In Pennsylvania, pawpaws are primarily found along rivers.
Why are pawpaws so rare?
Pawpaws are such an at-risk fruit, they made Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.
One reason why they don’t show up in supermarkets is because they bruise easily and don’t ship very well, according to food historian William Woys Weaver.
Not helping pawpaw’s image is the fact that to attract flies necessary for pollination, an old custom was to hang roadkill in the tree, according to one West Virginia grower.
Are they nutritious?
Pawpaws are high in vitamin C, essential amino acids, magnesium and iron, according to WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital.
The fruit has high potassium levels , meaning those with kidney problems should not have too many servings.
A 3.5-ounce serving of pawpaws has similar calories and fat as a banana — about 80 calories, more than a gram each of protein and fat, 18 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of fiber.