This is a time of abundance when it comes to local food choices. Yesterday, I had local eggplant & sweet corn with a pasta dish containing local tomatoes, onions, hot peppers and garlic. I have waiting in my fridge for another day beets, bell peppers, kale, watermelon, and zucchini. And today, I have some Iowa grown pawpaws! Don’t know what that is? Iowa State University Extension & Outreach Commercial Horticulture Specialist Patrick O’Malley will fill you in.
Q What is Pawpaw? By Patrick O’Malley, ISU Extension & Outreach
A: Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is the largest tree fruit native to the United States. This fruit, known commonly as the “poor man’s banana”, may reach over 1 lb. in weight. Pawpaws grow wild in the hardwood forests of 25 states in the eastern United States, ranging from northern Florida to southern Ontario (Canada) and as far west as eastern Nebraska. In Iowa it is found in the SE and SW parts of the state. Pawpaw is the only temperate member of the Annonaceae family, which includes the delectable tropical fruits, sweetsop, soursop, and atemoya.
Pawpaw is a small, deciduous tree that may grow 15-30’ high and 8-10’ wide. In the forest understory, pawpaw trees often exist in clumps or thickets, which may result from root suckering or seedlings developing from fruit that dropped to the ground from an original seedling tree. In sunny locations, trees typically assume a pyramidal shape, straight trunk, and lush, dark-green, long, drooping leaves that turn gold and brown during fall. Leaves occur alternately and may be 10-15” long and 3-5” wide.
The maroon colored flowers emerge before leaves in mid-spring and may reach up to 1.5” in diameter. A single pawpaw tree will rarely produce fruit. It is best to have a second tree close by to ensure a fruit crop. Pollination is by flies, beetles, and butterflies. Fruit set in the wild is usually low and may be pollinator -or resource- limited, but under cultivation, tremendous fruit loads have been observed in Iowa and other states.
Fruit are typically 1-5” long, 1-4” wide, and weigh between 1-20 oz. They may be borne singly or in clusters that resemble the “hands” of a banana plant. This highly aromatic fruit has a ripe flavor that resembles a creamy mixture of banana, mango and pineapple and can replace banana in many recipes. Generally they ripen from early September through early October. The fruit is nutritious and compares well with apples and oranges (a new study on its nutritional content is currently being conducted). When ripe, skin color ranges from green to yellow, and the flesh ranges from creamy white through bright yellow to shades of orange. Shelf life of a tree-ripened fruit stored at room temperature is 2 to 3 days. With refrigeration, fruit can be held up to 2 weeks while maintaining good eating quality. Within the fruit, there are two rows of large, brown, bean-sized, laterally compressed seeds that may be up to 1” long.
Where can I get more information on Pawpaw?
Kentucky State University (KSU) has been in the forefront in pawpaw research and has been the lead school in the Pawpaw Regional Variety Trial. They also maintain a website for pawpaw information at: http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/. Patrick O’Malley firstname.lastname@example.org has grown pawpaws at a trial site in Louisa County for 15 years.
Where can I find Pawpaws?
You can find pawpaw fruits, while in season, at these local outlets/events:
Iowa Valley Food Coop, www.iowavalleyfood.com
Life, Levi's Indigenous Fruit Enterprises http://www.aronialife.com/
Plus, a local nursery in Louisa County that sells the trees is Red Fern Farm http://redfernfarm.com/ or 319-729-5905.Sometimes local garden centers will carry the trees as well.
Don’t see pawpaws where you shop for groceries? Ask the produce manager if they are going to get some in.