Lynn Youngblood: Enjoy one of the splendid tastes of fall
Autumn is my favorite time of year, and one reason is I get to eat my favorite fruit. The tropical-looking, very odd, pawpaw (Asimina triloba) grows right here in the forests of the Midwest.
When the soft green skin is peeled off, creamy yellow flesh is revealed with consistency between a soft banana and custard. When fully ripe, the pawpaw can practically be eaten with a spoon. One fruit is a dessert all its own. The taste is somewhere mixed between banana, mango and pineapple all in one.
Pawpaws are small understory trees that thrive in rich, moist soil and grow about 12 to 25 feet tall. They have large leaves that are 10 to 12 inches long. In spring, the flowers are magnificent. I love to see them on my spring walks as they are often the first colors in the woods. Pawpaw limbs gracefully reach out with rich red-purple or maroon flowers gently attached at the ends. The large flowers (about 2 inches) are cup-shaped with six petals. The flowers often arrive before other trees have any leaves, including the pawpaw. The flowers hover upon slender branches like ruby gemstones on candelabras.
According to the University of Kentucky, "Pawpaw has three times as much vitamin C as apple, twice as much as banana, and one third as much as orange. Pawpaw has six times as much riboflavin as apple, twice as much as orange. Niacin content of pawpaw is twice as high as banana, fourteen times as high as apple, and four times as high as orange."
Pawpaw has a higher mineral content than all of the other fruits, some by more than ten times. The minerals mentioned include potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese. Pawpaws also have all essential amino acids. The list goes on and on.
A couple of important things to remember with any wild fruits: First, ensure you have a knowledgeable person with you to identify the fruit. Not everyone can eat them. Be cautious at first. Try only a bite or two to ensure your system can tolerate the fruit. A few people have reported a stomach ache after eating pawpaws.
Second, pick only fruits on land that you own or where you have permission.
Third, don’t dig up wild pawpaw trees. They grow in patches because their roots are often linked together. They have long taproots and do not transplant well. So please don’t try it.
If you would like to try the fruit, the best place to locate pawpaws is most likely farmerꞌs markets. I asked vendors at these markets to be ethical people and not forage on private lands.
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. You can reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net, or follow her on Instagram at TheGreenSpaceKC.