Have you ever tasted a native pawpaw? Or even heard of such a thing? The pawpaw (Asimina trilby) is a delightful wild fruit that’s ready to eat in autumn. Native to eastern North America, it grows in clusters on trees in temperate zone woodlands. It likes a cold winter and a hot humid summer, so it thrives in the Southeast and Midwest. If you ever get a chance to try one of these exotic native fruits, I strongly encourage you to do so. They’re a surprisingly sweet, delicious, creamy fruit, with a custard-like texture.
Looking somewhat like a small, pale green mango, they have a delicate flavor that is hard to describe. And hard to dislike. With overtones of banana and mango, some even say they detect notes of pineapple, or custard. Or melon. Pawpaw is the only temperate member of a tropical family, which includes cherimoya, soursop, and the custard apple. Pawpaw is the largest fruit that is native to North America, so it’s surprising that more of us haven’t heard of this lovely fruit. For some reason, no one has thought to attempt to cultivate these native fruits until very recently.
You probably won’t be able to find these delicacies in the store, though. Growers have finally taken notice of their marketability, and are working to cultivate them for American consumers, but they’re still exceptionally rare finds at the market. But if you happen to stumble across a tree in the woods, with mango-looking fruits, don’t be shy. Peel back that thin skin and give the pawpaw a try. Just spit out the hard, black seeds, and help mother nature along. According to a food scientist at Ohio State University, pawpaw is packed with antioxidants, on a par with other superfruits, such as cherries or cranberries.
By the way, it’s also persimmon season in North America. Although you’re likely to find Asian varieties on sale at the grocery at this time of year, there’s also a native American species (Diospyros virginiana) that ripens now in woodlands across the Eastern United States. It’s higher in vitamin C, calcium, iron and potassium than the larger, showier Asian varieties. Give them a try. Just make sure they’re truly ripe. A ripe persimmon is delightfully sweet. But an unripe one is highly astringent.