New Book Focuses on Forgotten but Delicious Pawpaw Fruit

Andrew Moore's engaging, informative read will make you hungry for the fruit that will soon be in season in the Pittsburgh area.




PHOTO BY Jonathan Yahalom

 

The pawpaw is the largest fruit native to North America. They grow wild in a significant stretch of the American woodlands from east Texas through Pennsylvania, yet their delights largely are unknown to anyone who’s not a forager or a fruit fanatic. Pittsburgh’s Andrew Moore believes it’s time to change that.

“As I wandered down the pawpaw path, I realized this was a story I wanted to share. Everything that I uncovered was interesting to me,” he says.

Moore’s book, “Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit,” is set for release by Chelsea Green Publishing on Aug. 8. In the book, he examines the cultural, botanical and culinary history of this once-important fruit. He zigzagged across the country for four years talking to pawpaw enthusiasts, historians and growers. He also spent hundreds of hours digging through archives to uncover the lost history of the fruit. The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a member of a family of tropical fruits that also includes custard apples,
cherimoya and soursop. The tree’s oblong fruits, studded with shiny black seeds, taste like a cross between a mango and a banana (flavor varies from tree to tree in the wild). They’re freaking delicious.

“It’s unlike anything else you’re going to find in the northern woods. And yet most people have never heard about it. It was a mystery to me; how does something as unique as the pawpaw go relatively unknown?” he says.
 


Pawpaws haven’t been commercialized in the same way other forest fruits such as blueberries and blackberries have. Pawpaws have a depressingly fleeting shelf life; pick them too early and they never ripen, but you better eat the right away when picked ripe because they start to decompose quickly.

“When Americans stopped going to the woods for food, they stopped knowing the pawpaw,” he says.

Moore says that a few inspired orchardists and backyard growers now are working on selecting wild and improved varieties of pawpaw that manage to retain the fruit’s lusty flavor while slightly extending the shelf life. He even has three plants (two wild, one cultivated) growing in his yard, plus a freezer full of seeds.

“There’s nothing like going into the woods and finding a patch of pawpaws. There’s a connection to nature and history when you do that. But at the same time some of these improved cultivars are so delicious that there’s a great experience in that, too,” he says.

The book’s launch party is on Aug. 8 at the East End Book Exchange in Bloomfield, and it’s also now available for preorder on the Chelsea Green website as well as through Amazon. It’s an engaging, informative read that’ll make you hungry to know the pawpaw, which is in season here from mid-September through October.

Moore introduced me to my first pawpaw two years ago, and I’ve been a lover of the fruit since then. Read his book, and you’ll likely find yourself tromping near woodland riverbeds in search of your pawpaw patch, too.


 

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