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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Meet the Pawpaw: Missouri's Forgotten Fruit

Posted By on Wed, Oct 2, 2013 at 8:30 AM

       We compared the pawpaw to two pup's paws and found few similarities. | Mabel Suen
  •        We compared the pawpaw to two pup's paws and found few similarities. | Mabel Suen

A couple weeks ago, Gut Check came into possession of some mystery produce: the pawpaw fruit. As soon as we learned some of its common nicknames, "a poor man's banana" and "American custard apple," we were intrigued. What is this? Where did it come from? What can we do with it?

Enter Andy Moore, who delivered the pawpaw to us directly from grower Jerry Lehman in Indiana. Moore stopped in St. Louis to conduct research for his book, Pawpaw: The Story of America's Forgotten Fruit, and he had plenty to impart about his adventures thus far.

Pawpaws grow abundantly in the wild throughout the country, including Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and, of course, Missouri and Illinois. Pawpaw season is short -- roughly the month of September.

       The innards of a really ripe pawpaw fruit. | Mabel Suen
  •        The innards of a really ripe pawpaw fruit. | Mabel Suen

Moore's book will be a complete history of the pawpaw in America, including a travelogue about the places where pawpaws grow and the people who grow them. In St. Louis, he hung out on the banks of the Missouri River in Belle Fontaine Park, where he says Lewis and Clark wrote about eating nothing but pawpaws and biscuits for three days. Though the landscape has changed, plenty of pawpaws still grow on the site to this day, Moore reports.

Where else can you find them locally? According to fallingfruit.org, a user-generated site which maps the urban harvest, seven pawpaw trees line a public walkway on the northeast side of Tower Grove Park, and two trees are located on the east side of Forest Park.

Potential sites of pawpaw trees. - VIA FALLINGFRUIT.ORG

So we know where they grow. But what do they taste like? And what the heck are you supposed to do with one? We took ours to the Gut Check Test Kitchen to find out.

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