Environment & Energy
1:56 pm
Mon January 6, 2014

Passion for Pawpaws with Pittsburgh's Pawpaw Ambassador

Pawpaws have the flavor and texture of a tropical fruit, but they're native to northern regions of the US.
Credit The Pawpaw Book/Andy Moore / Flickr

Andy Moore is a writer who lives on the North Side of Pittsburgh. In 2013, The Allegheny Front interviewed him about his proclivity for the pawpaw, a fruit that's native to Pennsylvania and many other regions of the United States. The Allegheny Front recently listed the story as one of their favorites of 2013, and it's one of mine too.

AF Reporter Hal B. Klein says:

"The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to North America, and it’s also the only member of a family of tropical plants growing in our cold climate. For one month a year—September in Western Pennsylvania—6-inch ovals ripen to yellow-green and produce a fruit that tastes like a cross between a mango and a banana. Thomas Jefferson grew them, and they’re rumored to have saved explorers Lewis and Clark from starvation. Yet, Moore says, they’re largely unknown to most of us."

You may ask, "If they're native to our area, why haven't I ever seen pawpaws at the supermarket?"

Ohio University food scientists have this explanation:

"The temperamental fruit bruises easily and ripens to the point of inedibility within two to three days of being picked, making it impossible to ship long distances whole and fresh... Pawpaws growing on the same tree don't mature at the same time, frustrating harvesters, producers, and researchers alike. And there are upwards of 80 varieties, each of which may have different flavors, nutrient levels, seed quantities, and other characteristics."

In other words, pawpaws are not easy to commercialize.

But for those who love to shop and eat local, the adventure of seeking the right pawpaw at the farmer's market, at the right time of year, can be exciting. Even better, for the skillful gardener, a nurtured pawpaw tree could be right around the corner.

In addition to writing a book which chronicles the history of the pawpaw, Moore is germinating dozens of seeds and hopes to sell seedlings to new enthusiasts this spring. He tells me, "They can be planted right away, but only if they'll get good watering and a temporary shade structure (which can be as simple as a rag over a cage)," he said.

Contact Moore and follow his pawpaw postings at https://twitter.com/thepawpawbook.