If you’ve never eaten a paw-paw, you’re missing out on a real Ohio treat.
Mid-September is the time to head into the woods in search of paw-paws, Ohio’s largest wild fruit. (Fun Factoid: Paw-paws are also Ohio’s official native wild fruit.)
“What is a paw-paw?” you might ask?
A paw-paw is a mottled green fruit the size of a large potato, and its taste is unique. It has large brown seeds the size of nickels and it grows on small trees that favor shaded areas along creek bottoms.
Some describe the taste of a paw-paw as a blend of banana and mango, with a creamy custard texture. Having tasted more than a few paw-paws, this is a good description.
Its color, like its texture, is creamy yellow custard. When they’re ripe, no taste can match that of a fresh paw-paw eaten beside a cool, shady creek right from the tree.
Paw-paws resemble papaya, which is where their name comes from, but the two are unrelated and paw-paws are about half as big.
They have long tapered oval leaves making them easy to spot along shaded creek banks. Some consider paw-paws a tropical fruit (perhaps because their taste and appearance seems exotic) but they’re actually native to Ohio and they’re been here for eons.
Ohio’s first people relished paw-paws and this large wild fruit sustained many of Ohio’s first settlers. As legend goes, the called Shawnee called the September moon “Paw-Paw Moon” (in their own language, of course.)
Paw-paws can be eaten fresh from the tree (this is my favorite way of enjoying them) and they can also be used to flavor muffins, oatmeal, smoothies, ice cream, and more.
Paw-paw puree can also be frozen, and my winter store of paw-paw puree is already in the freezer. But that won’t stop me from more paw-paw hunting expeditions, right up until the last delicious fruit has been harvested.
Come join me if you like.
L. Mark Kibler, M.Ed. served as an Interpretive Naturalist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources at Shawnee, Deer Creek and Mohican State Parks for many years. He is a retired Environmental Education, Physics and Biology teacher and he was selected as a Teacher of the Year in New Hampshire. He is an Ohio native and he lives on a farm near Blanchester. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.