Saturday, May 21, 2022


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Agriculture

Ed Hessler

Where, oh where, is pretty little Suzie?/ Where, oh where, is pretty little Suzie?/ Where, oh where, is pretty little Suzie?/  Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch." -- Traditional American Folk Song

Have you ever eaten an eastern North American pawpaw (Asimina triloba)  or had pawpaw in any form? I haven't although I've heard of them. This BBC Travel feature by Jonathan Shipley brought me up-to-date on the fruit and its many delights, including beauty. After reading it, I think it has to be one of America's better food secrets. 

Pawpaws have a wide geographic distribution in the United States--"found in 26 states such as Texas, Ohio, West Virginia, New York and Michigan and all the way up to Ontario, Canada." There may be some reasons for our ignorance of this fruit, including that they are not grown on a large scale, they require wet, low growing conditions and have a short after-harvest "shelf life" of only a few days.

Shipley's reporting includes a link to pawpaw enthusiast, Michael Judd who has written a book on growing and caring for them, "from seed to table." In late summer, Judd will be "hosting his seventh annual pawpaw festival...on his farm in Frederick, Maryland, which includes tastings, jam making, pawpaw ice cream, music lectures and more." The Judd site has a variety of fascinating videos and information about the event - really worth the visit.

These festivals, it turns out, are not unusual and Shipley reports that one in Ohio had almost "'10,000 visitors last year' according to Christ Chmiel, "co-owner of a farm which grows pawpaws, ships pawpaw products and helps organize the Albany annual festival." The festival includes, said Chmiel, '"a pawpaw cook-off, best pawpaw competition and (of course) a pawpaw eating competition. The pawpaw beer has been a huge success for the festival." A TEDx Talk given by Chmiel in 2018 is linked.

Shipley describes fossil evidence, evidence for the role of  Indians in its dispersal based on the research Choctaw Nation professor Dr. Devon Mihesuah (linked), some history (de Soto, Washington, Jefferson, Lewis and Clark), as well as hypotheses on the role of magafauna (e.g., mammoths, giant beavers, sloths) in their northward dispersal.

Chefs and brewers are busy raising awareness and there are pawpaw research programs at Iowa State University and Kentucky State University

"It's an enthusiastic collection," reports Shipley, "of hard - working individuals eager to put the pawpaw on a bigger stage. George Washington would be pleased." 

Fascinating report with some superb photographs.   

h/t Shipley included the verses in the epigraph, a song I did know with no idea of what a pawpaw patch was.

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