Today, it is hard to not hear of people talking about stockpiling food. The media and markets are loaded with options for non-perishables and foods packaged so that they can be stored for years. This is great and LMS fully supports those that commit to long-term storage and stockpiling of backup food supplies. However, it is equally valuable to know what foods nature readily provides often right in your backyard. This post looks at the little known, native, North American super-fruit known as the pawpaw.
The pawpaw is a native fruit that grows on smaller trees that are almost tropical in appearance. The fruit weighing on average about 8 ounces looks similar to a mango from the outside with a green skin and large, dark, pumpkin like seeds on the inside. The fruit has a custard like yellowish inside that has a taste reminiscent of a banana, mango, and pineapple and ripens between late August and early October. The fruit is super rich in protein, anti-oxidants, and is reported to have cancer fighting qualities. Further, the fruit produces its own insect repellent and in a concentrated form can be used to even treat resistant head lice effectively. The tree is so well adapted, it doesn’t require the use of pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides to grow healthy unlike other non-native fruit trees such as various apple and orange trees. However, the tree does play host to the beautiful Zebra swallowtail butterfly, whose larvae feed exclusively and harmlessly on the tree. The trees are typically found along fertile, well-drained soil lining the banks of streams and rivers stretching from the mid-Atlantic to Michigan.
Pawpaw fruit has a rich history in America even though in recent years it has been nearly forgotten. The pawpaws were so sought after, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are said to have grown and cultivated them on their farms. Further, not only were they valued by Native Americans, but American history tells us that Lewis and Clark cheated starvation by surviving on the fruit during their return trip along the Missouri River to St. Louis.
By studying a bit online, one can quickly become familiar with the pawpaw and learn to identify it in the wild. For those fortunate enough to have access to one of these bountiful fruit trees, just a few fruits in the late summer/early fall can yield a delightful and refreshing addition to your diet. Further, they make excellent additions to fruit smoothies, yogurts, and ice cream. The fruit puree can also be used to make a host of other items such as jams, wines, breads, and desserts. Just remember, the pawpaw does not keep well once it ripens and must be used or frozen within three days of peak ripeness.
If you are not fortunate enough to have access to one of these trees, you can buy both the pawpaw fruit and the saplings online from a few boutique sources such as http://www.owennativefoods.com/ , which specialize in selling varieties of native super-foods such as the pawpaw in an organic and sustainable manner. Note: Sources such as Owen Native Foods sell the future season’s crop early (usually between December and March) so it is best to place orders far in advance of the harvest season. Under the proper conditions, you can grow your own pawpaw trees and have a sustainable super-food industry right in your backyard.
For additional information on this outstanding, but little known native fruit, visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which gives the following information about paw paws on its website: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/438/438-105/438-105.html
The crop is well adapted to the Eastern U.S. climate and soil conditions. Pawpaw is adapted to humid temperate zone growing conditions. It is hardy to the USDA growing zone 5 (-20°F or -29°C), and needs at least 400 hours in annual chilling requirements (time exposed to 35° to 45°F during winter months, depending on the cultivar). This is a low chill requirement compared to other tree fruit species (apples 800 to 1,700 hours), and once met, the trees will begin to flower early in the spring. A long, warm season is required to mature fruit (2,600 degree days; ~160 frost-free days). From 30 to 35 inches of rainfall is needed annually, with the majority falling in the spring and summer. Contrary to popular belief, pawpaw performs best in full-sun exposure. However, sunlight protection is needed in the first year in the field, as young tree shoots are sensitive to sunlight. In an orchard setting, this is accomplished by using commercially available tree shelters.
The pawpaw is a unique/unusual fruit crop with high nutritional value and potential for both fresh and processed market uses. As a food source, pawpaw exceeds apple, peach, and grapes in vitamin, mineral, amino acid, and food energy values. The current and primary market for fruit is as a fresh product in farmers markets and other direct sales outlets. Though large-scale commercial processing markets do not yet exist, the fruit’s intense flavor and aroma have significant potential in blended fruit drinks, baby food, ice cream, and as a substitute for banana in various baking recipes. In Kentucky, various entrepreneurs are utilizing pawpaw as a local cuisine item for restaurants and in frozen custard and ice cream products.
There are valuable natural compounds in the plant, which have both anti-carcinogenic and pesticidal properties. Aromatic compounds in the fruit have potential for use in cosmetics and home products. Research has shown that pawpaws have a diversity of natural compounds in fruit, leaves, bark, and twigs. One class of compounds known as annoaceous acetogenins occurs in leaves and twigs and has reported anti-tumor properties. Currently, Purdue University has patented an extraction procedure and the development of an herbal formulation is underway by a private company. Commercial drug manufacturers, however, have shown limited interest in the compounds. An alkaloid, asimicin, is found in the seeds, leaves, and bark of pawpaw and is reported to have pesticidal properties. Pawpaws are resistant to insect and disease pressure. This may be due to asimicin and other natural defense compounds. With proper management, organic production of pawpaw is feasible. Aromatic constituents isolated from fruit may hold potential for marketing as well.
By Guiles Hendrik