It’s mid-September, and if you’re from Ohio you know what that means: It’s time for pawpaw season. And naturally, the third Thursday of the month is also National Pawpaw Day, a celebration of the unusual fruit.
The small green fruit is native to the Eastern US and has been in the Ohio River Valley region for over 30,000 years. Today, there are still wild pawpaw trees all over Ohio, usually found by rivers and in the shade.
If you can’t get enough pawpaws in your life for the short time they’re ripe, there’s also the Ohio Pawpaw Festival in Albany this weekend. Running Sept. 16-18, the 24th annual celebration will highlight the pawpaw’s history, host competitions for the best and biggest pawpaw and hold pawpaw cook-off and eating contests, among other activities.
Here’s everything you need to know about the wild and strange pawpaw.
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What is a pawpaw?
The fruit is indigenous to 26 states in the US and parts of Canada, extending from Northern Florida to Southern Ontario and as west as Eastern Nebraska, according to Kentucky State University’s Pawpaw Research Project, the only full-time pawpaw research program in the world.
Pawpaws are also sometimes known as the Kentucky banana.
When are pawpaws ripe in Ohio?
The pawpaw season is short and typically lasts only eight weeks. In Ohio, pawpaws usually ripen toward the end of August and as late as October, while the fruits in the Deep South are ready a few months earlier in late July or early August.
And when they’re ripe and ready to eat, they usually fall right off the tree.
The fruit does not stay good for very long, though, as pawpaws begin to blacken just three days after they’re picked. So, if you cannot eat them quick enough, freeze the pulp for later use.
What does a pawpaw taste like?
The kidney-shaped fruit is green, with a creamy, avocado-like texture that tastes a bit like mango, pineapple and banana.
The pawpaw’s orange-yellow pulp can be used as an ingredient in gourmet items such as ice cream, wine and pies.
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How to eat a pawpaw
Cut the fruit in half with a knife, but avoid cutting the hard seeds inside. You must work around them. Scoop out the fruit with a spoon and spit out the seeds. You can also use a potato peeler for the skin.
The texture of the pulp is creamy and avocado-like.
The fruit can be used to make a variety of foods but does particularly well in ice cream, smoothies, custards and jams.
“Anything you can make with bananas, you can do with pawpaw. So, banana bread and banana muffins and cake and things like that,” Sheri Crabtree, a pawpaw specialist at Kentucky State University, previously told The Enquirer.
Are pawpaws and papayas the same thing?
No, although they look slightly similar, they come from different families. Papayas, or carica papaya, belong to the small Caricaceae family. And pawpaws, or Asimina trilobabelong to the Annonaceae family.
Papayas are native to tropical regions of Central America, while pawpaws are native to eastern North America.
Their taste and color also varies. When ripe, papayas turn orange or deep yellow in color, while pawpaws turn yellow. Pawpaws are also smaller and have a flavor that resembles a combination of mango, pineapple and banana.
Where to find pawpaws around Greater Cincinnati
Wild pawpaws typically grow in clusters on trees and can be found in parks and wooded areas.
They’re also not typically found in grocery stores.
“I think the main reason is that they have a very short shelf life, they’re very perishable. When they’re ripe, they bruise easily. So, they can’t be stored for a long time, and they can’t be shipped long distances,” Crabtree previously told The Enquirer.
According to Cutler Real Estate, you can usually find pawpaws in Greater Cincinnati around these locations:
- Ultimate Park.
- Burnet Woods.
- Caldwell Preserve.
- French Park.
- Mount Airy Forest.
- Sharon Woods.
- Shawnee Lookout.