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California Pawpaw Report--We Can Do Better Than The Status Quo

California Pawpaw Report--We Can Do Better Than The Status Quo

I know that many in the Cloudforest community are growing pawpaws including: William and William’s friend in Visalia, Jack in San Luis Obispo, Luen in Santa Cruz, Andrea in Italy, and Tom in Iowa. And of course, Axel, Ashok, David, and I are on our way, with fingers crossed, trying to grow a number of different cultivars. I am also sure that there are many more Cloudforest readers out there who are also growing pawpaws...so let’s hear from you!

I recently discovered a local source for pawpaw fruit here in the SF Bay Area. This local grower, it seems, has planted a full acre of pawpaw trees. I was told that these are seedling trees, not grafts, which is kind of interesting. For the time being, he is selling his fruits to the truly curious at local farmers’ markets. I say “truly curious” because from my observations, hundreds of people were racing right past the pawpaw stand, without even a passing glance. Grapes, apples, plums, oranges and even jujubes (how about that?) were selling like hotcakes. Those pawpaws began to look awfully lonely.

Over the course of October, I was able to sample many fruit from this California seedling stand. The fruit came in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of ripeness. Each and every fruit tasted slightly different. (One, and only one, tasted somewhat similar to a cherimoya.) Also, as I noted in an earlier post, one of my seedling pawpaw trees fruited for the first time this year (hooray!) producing four “micro-fruits.” Over the last few years I have also sampled a handful of pawpaws from another person’s collection. All in all, I suspect, it is time to offer a few thoughts on pawpaws. (Me, a few thoughts?)

You might be asking yourself: what is so interesting about pawpaws? I suppose as we prepare for the holiday season and watch millions of people travel the well worn path to the shopping malls to purchase yet more items to stuff into their closets, notions of vanity and irrelevance do tend to arise in our minds. Where do pawpaws fit into such a picture? Suffice to say that pawpaws are better than getting another sweater or tie. Trust me on this. They are quite the riddle, something of an enigma.

Yet, here is a fruit that can hardly be said to be “rare” in at least one sense. Thousands of them are growing all around us in the United States, fruiting, I suspect, without a care for what we humans think of them, or their fruit. Still, as ubiquitous as they are in certain parts of the country, 99.9% of the American population has never eaten a pawpaw.

And if they did eat a pawpaw, what would they find? Well, they would discover one of the most complex tasting fruits in the world. They would find a fruit that is essentially a high powered factory of flavors, nutrients, and who knows what else?

Truth be told, however, this is not an easy fruit to simply greet with a big bear hug. Its close relationship and appeal to certain winged insects can certainly challenge certain aesthetic prejudices. And, an honest initial impression of the fruit might well be something along the lines of: “what the heck is going on with this fruit?” At this point, I submit, the answer to this question is still, largely, shrouded in mystery.

Many believe that the pawpaw will soon follow the cherimoya into the larger American stream of commerce. (Yes, cherimoyas are cropping up in the supermarkets of the midwest.) There is some reason to believe that the first entry of the pawpaw into the “mainstream” will be through its use in ice cream. (Ben and Jerry’s Pawpaws & Pralines? Maybe.) Presumably, following such an ice cream entry, opportunities to sell the fresh fruit will be enhanced.

For us rare fruit types, the pawpaw presents some interesting avenues for inquiry. One facet of the rare fruit hobby is to occasionally dream of finding, creating, or helping to develop, the first commercial cultivar of an underappreciated fruit, the cultivar that finally captures the heart of the larger public. The commercial potential of pawpaws is, I think, an interesting question.

So…with apologies to David for the length of what will follow, and to Andrea in Italy, for what will evidently be complexity conjured from simplicity, I offer tonight some thoughts on pawpaws. Assuredly, I believe in what I am asserting here, but I remain, as ever, humble and open to persuasion and new information.

Initially, I submit that the pawpaw information out there on the internet, the information readily available to you and me, is inadequate. I would like to suggest that, together, the Cloudforest pawpaw growers move beyond this status quo. In particular, I am suggesting that we quantify and describe this fruit with much greater precision, organization, and detail.

First, though, let’s start with some fun pictures from a local grower’s trees, then move on to the more serious stuff. Below is a shot of two “Prolific” pawpaws fused together as one, something that I have been told is somewhat common. It is, nevertheless, kind of neat.

The following thread was started by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 10:12 pm PST


Pawpaws Peeking Through...

Here is a shot illustrating the suckering ability of pawpaw trees. Jack I know has considerable experience with pawpaw suckering. Here, the suckering is perhaps a bit different from what even he is accustomed to. Planted on a hillside, these trees are essentially peeking out of, and under, man-made “windows” in the hillside.

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 10:15 pm PST.


Pawpaws Getting A Suntan...

Here is a shot of something you occasionally see, sunburn on the fruit. This is the Mary Foos Johnson cultivar. Are different cultivars more or less susceptible to sunburn?

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 10:17 pm PST.


A Transition Is Needed...

All right then, here is what I am proposing with respect to pawpaws…and asking for comments on:

First, we should step away from the present practice of describing pawpaws as a single stage fruit. Instead, we should transition to a more truthful description of pawpaw fruit. Pawpaws can be consumed, and enjoyed, in any one of THREE stages, and in each of these THREE stages, the very same fruit can be appreciably different in consistency and/or taste.

Second, we should stick our necks out, and begin to describe the comparative tastes and textures of each cultivar, in each one of the three stages. In particular, it is time to fill in the complete lack of published information on the differences between the cultivars.

Third, we should actively explore whether any culitivars can be consumed “skin and all” without paying any “price” in the eating experience, or better yet, actually having an enhanced eating experience when consuming the skin.

Fourth, we should consider the question of banana emulation. In particular, we should evaluate cultivars to determine their similarity to the banana presently eaten by hundreds of thousands of Americans every single day. Most directly, is there a cultivar out there that closely mimics the Safeway banana that so many consumers obviously love? This cultivar, it would seem, has a ready market…right now.

So…those are my four proposals. Comments? What follows is a discussion of the existing published information out there, as well as these proposals. For those who have to wash the cat (not an easy task mind you, lots of hissing and scratching and the like), you can skip what follows.

THE EXISTING PUBLISHED INFORMATION ON THE SUBJECTS OF PAWPAW TASTE & CULTIVARS

There is assuredly useful information out there on the subject of pawpaws. For purposes of my discussion, I will focus on what we might consider to be the information available to the masses, the information available in the library of the world...I am speaking of the internet. In particular, let me list THE three primary internet sources available to you and me:

Kentucky State University--http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/default.htm

CRFG Fruit Facts--http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/pawpaw.html

Purdue FactSheet--http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/CropFactSheets/pawpaw.html

Let me next list the top sellers (excluding sellers on ebay) of pawpaw trees in the United States.

Burnt Ridge Nursery-- http://landru.myhome.net/burntridge/
Peterson PawPaws-- http://www.petersonpawpaws.com/
Hidden Springs-- http://www.catalogs.google.com/catalogs?dq=&hl=en&lr=&issue=23273&catpage=15
One Green World--http://www.onegreenworld.com/
Blossom Nursery-- http://www.blossomnursery.com/
Nolin Nursery-- http://www.nolinnursery.com/Pawpaw.htm
Raintree Nursery-- http://www.raintreenursery.com/catalog/producttype.cfm?producttype=PAW

Now, from each of these sources, I will quote the sum total information, all the information, they provide on the issue of the taste of pawpaws. I want to state up front that it is not my intent to criticize the sellers of pawpaws. I have had great experiences with a number of these sellers. They are to be commended and supported.

However, I do want to make a fair assessment on this one issue: the sum total information you and I can access on the issue of pawpaw taste, cultivars and timing. So, let’s go…

From Raintree Nursery, we simply have: “a pulp that tastes like vanilla custard.” Hmmm…From Burnt Ridge, we are told: “They are sweet and custard like with a rich flavor.” Hidden Springs opines: “Fruits have a rich custard-like flavor and consistency.” One Green World submits: “fruity, banana-like flavor with creamy, custard-like flesh.” Nolin Nursery tells us: “The nutritious, soft, yellow pulp has a rich, banana-custard flavor.” From Blossom Nursery, we have: “They have a fragrant aroma, a custardy texture, and a tropical taste. The best ones are rich, creamy and sweet, reminding some people of banana cream pie.” And CRFG notes: “The yellow flesh is custard like and highly nutritious. The best fruit has a complex, tropical flavor unlike any other temperate zone fruit. “

So…up to this point, we have Raintree going with vanilla taste. We have Burnt Ridge and Hidden Springs just punting on the whole taste question and telling us the flavor is “rich.” Hmmmm…We have Nolin and Blossom suggesting that the flavor is banana-like. Okay. Finally, we have CRFG simply flabbergasted, at a complete loss for words of comparison. CRFG tells us only that the taste is “complex, tropical.” Brilliant. Thanks, now I understand what it tastes like.

Purdue begins to take a bit more of a stand: “This highly aromatic, climacteric fruit has a ripe taste that resembles a creamy mixture of banana, mango, and pineapple.”

Considering the sum total of information now, I suspect that many readers are left in a state of confusion. Is it vanilla? Is it banana? And what about the mango and pineapple?

Well, there are different cultivars…do different cultivars of pawpaws taste different? Do some taste like vanilla? Others like banana? Others like banana with mango? Others like banana with pineapple? And what about acidity? Is this a subacid fruit? They don’t say. Hmm…then again, it’s hard to get more acid than a pineapple. Hmmm…I am confused. Is it possible that there is a simple answer to all these questions? Namely, that all pawpaw cultivars essentially taste alike and that it is just best to punt and say they all taste complex?

Several years ago, I recall contacting a pawpaw seller who probably sells the greatest number of pawpaw cultivars in the United States. I asked him what the taste differences were between the many cultivars he sells. Mind you, this person is probably in the top 10 of people who have tasted the greatest number of pawpaw cultivars. His response: “they all essentially taste alike.” Not what I wanted to hear. Very counterintuitive. But do you suppose it’s true?

Or, is it perhaps a simple matter of subjective taste buds? Some people, including this expert, simply cannot taste any difference? For those who find that every pawpaw tastes the same, how can I quibble with their very personal assessment? But, with all due respect, I strongly believe that a substantial number of people CAN discern differences in taste between the cultivars. I can, and mind you, I tend to order the house red (Are there really differences in wines?)

But is there any published support for my “belief” that different cultivars actually taste different? In fact, can you find any description ANYWHERE in the world that describes the taste differences between the many established cultivars? Surprisingly, the answer is essentially—no.

Well…has anyone ever put them all together, studied their taste profiles, and reported the differences? Again, paradoxically, no, not that I am aware of. How utterly and totally strange!

Once again, I readily acknowledge that tastes are somewhat subjective, and that may explain some reluctance to conduct comparative taste tests. But really now, c’mon, how many taste tests have I been to for every fruit under the sun? We do it like clockwork around here for other fruits. First, we duly acknowledge that everyone has different tastes, then proceed to conduct the comparative tasting, then submit our opinions. To the extent that many people can taste a certain taste, or degree of taste, or degree of sweetness in a fruit, we can simply report that “many people taste…etc.”

Want the pawpaw cultivar that is the sweetest? Want the cultivar that is the firmest? Want the cultivar that has the most acid or zing? Want the cultivar with the mildest flavor because you find pawpaws overpowering? Want the cultivar that tastes of pineapple? Sorry, out of luck. There is no published information out there on any of this.

You might desperately return to the aforementioned sources for help, but you are left to read between essentially non-existent lines. The taste descriptions are opaque, unless you find it informative that every single cultivar is “delicious.” In truth, I suppose, you need to buy every single cultivar, and try them for yourself! Is this why the descriptions are so opaque? Is it a desire to maximize sales, shyness, or both? I certainly have bought my share of cultivars. Maybe it works…

I particularly enjoy the CRFG descriptions of pawpaw cultivars. Rather than provide actual details as to the taste and texture of each cultivar, which I guess, the author thinks would be subjective, the author leaves us with something equally subjective. Examine the CRFG descriptions and you will find that certain cultivars are awarded “flavor good.” Others are awarded “flavor excellent,” and one, we are told, is “flavor superb.” Gee, now which one do you want? But…do you really KNOW why you want it? Oh brother!

The one slight exception to all this punting on the issue of comparative tastes is Hidden Springs which does provide ever so slight opinions. (Alas, having only one person on the planet publish some comparative analysis is somewhat suboptimal. We are presented with a consensus of…uh… one.)

Hidden Springs tells us that Mary Foos Johnson tastes similar to Sunflower. Okay, that seems somewhat helpful. Presumably, though not clearly, the texture of Mitchell is different from all the others, because Hidden Springs notes that it has an “airy texture.” Presumably, Polific is also distinctive because it has a “thick texture” and a “mild flavor.” And here, for the first time in any published source, some new terms crop up with respect to one or two cultivars: “aftertaste” and “caramel.”

Strangely, all of our other sources are silent on these issues (which it turns out are very very common). In the end, I think Hidden Springs deserves credit for making a start. This start, however, is so modest, so preliminary, that it still leaves us with essentially water running through our fingers. Try to grab it, try to drink it, and it is gone.

Which brings us to our last hope for illumination, THE national pawpaw site, the KSU web site. Here we finally begin to approach some published details on the issue of taste. “Pawpaws have a creamy, custard-like flesh with a complex combination of tropical fruit flavors. They are most commonly described as tasting like banana combined with mango, pineapple, melon, berries, or other fruit. There is a considerable variety of flavors among wild pawpaws, ranging from awful to sublime. Most pawpaws taste good, some are truly wonderful, and a few are better for throwing than for eating.” KSU further notes: “The fruit has a powerful aroma and almost tropical flavor, resembling a combination of banana, mango, and pineapple. However, flavor varies among cultivars, with some fruit displaying more complex flavor profiles.”

So KSU tells us that different cultivars DO have different flavors. To me this is reasonable and assuredly corresponds to my experience. Yet…with much anticipation, we turn to KSU’s wonderful listing of known cultivars and…what do I find? For each cultivar, we are given exactly ZERO information on the flavor profile of the cultivar! How strange?!

To KSU’s credit, they recognize this, and note: “we hope to conduct taste panels in the future to develop good descriptions of the flavors of various pawpaws.” How is it, however, that with many of these cultivars between 30-50 years old, no one has put together a comparitive study? Am I missing something here?

In other areas, the KSU site is curiously silent. The KSU site makes absolutely no mention of a caramel taste in pawpaws. Yet, this flavor is out there in spades! In addition, the KSU site says almost nothing on the subject of aftertaste. The site implies that only seedling trees, NOT established cultivars, can present “off” aftertastes, an implication that I think is not entirely true. And what about good aftertastes? Virtually every ripe pawpaw produces some type of aftertaste. Why no mention of this?

All in all, I hope you will agree with me that presently the information out there is confusing and wholly inadequate. As I will argue below, these deficiencies are further compounded by the fact that our authorities seem to suggest that pawpaws are a single stage fruit, namely, that there is only a single, ripe stage when consumption is appropriate. This is erroneous.

THE EXISTING INFORMATION OUT THERE ON THE SUBJECT OF TIMING--WHEN TO EAT A PAWPAW

The aforementioned sellers of pawpaws do not provide any information on timing, so let’s move on to our three primary sources.

CRFG tells us “When ripe, it is soft and yields easily to a gentle squeeze, and has a pronounced perfumed fragrance. The skin of the green fruit usually lightens in color as it ripens and often develops blackish splotches which do not affect the flavor or edibility…The ripe fruit is very perishable with a shelf life of 2 or 3 days, but will keep up to 3 weeks if it is refrigerated at 40° - 45° F.” Purdue is very brief: “Shelf-life of a tree-ripened fruit stored at room temperature is 2 to 3 days. With refrigeration, fruit can be held up to 3 weeks while maintaining good eating quality.”

Lastly, we turn to KSU: “Ripe pawpaws should give when squeezed gently, as ripe peaches do, and can be picked easily with a gentle tug. Ripe pawpaws usually give off a powerful fruity aroma, as well. Color change is generally not a reliable indicator of ripeness.” KSU further indicates “the flavor of a pawpaw fruit can intensify as it over-ripens, as with banana, resulting in pulp that is excellent for use in cooking. The skin should not be eaten. Shelf life of a tree-ripened fruit stored at room temperature is 2-3 days. With refrigeration, fruit can be held up to 3 weeks while maintaining good eating quality.”

According to our sources, I think it is fair to summarize: a pawpaw should be eaten when there is appreciable “give” in the fruit when squeezed, much like a peach. The skin should not be eaten. Once ripe, you have a very short time to consume it, 2-3 days. Presumably, all the taste and texture descriptions we have been given, apply to the fruit at this single, ripe stage. There is absolutely no mention of other edible stages that the fruit goes through.

LET’S TRANSITION AWAY FROM THE SINGLE STAGE MODEL AND TOWARD A MORE TRUTHFUL, THREE STAGE EVALUATION OF PAW PAW CULTIVARS

My experience with pawpaws suggests that the established one stage model for pawpaws should be scrapped. It substantially undersells the eating potential of pawpaws. A much better approach is to evaluate pawpaw taste and texture, for each cultivar, at each one of THREE stages.

Let me start off with a description of these three stages that focuses exclusively on EXTERNALLY observable features of the fruit at each stage. (I will discuss taste and texture below.)

The first stage is when the fruit is still firm, with little or no smell, and gives only very slightly to pressure. The second stage is when the fruit yields substantially to pressure and provides an aroma. The third stage is when the fruit yields fully to pressure and the exterior of the fruit appears bruised or bronzed in large measure.

For those who are operating in the present pawpaw paradigm, you might very well consider these stages to be under ripe, ripe, and overripe. Implicit in such language however, is what I consider to be an improper value judgment. After all, you want to eat a RIPE fruit don’t you? Who wants under-ripe? Who wants overripe? In the case of pawpaws, curiously, distinctively, I think the answer is many people. Perhaps not you, but many people. So…for pawpaws at least, let’s put away our preconceived notions, and consider, objectively, the actual issues presented by a three stage analysis.

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 10:33 pm PST.


A Test Subject?

Whether it was good fortune or bad fortune, I sort of accidentally stepped into a three stage evaluation model with the four pawpaw fruits growing on my seedling tree. Let me explain.

Below is a photo taken of the four pawpaws taken on October 5, 2005. They are still dangling from the seedling tree. At this point, the fruits were absolutely rock hard. It seemed to me that they had a bit more to grow.

In the days and weeks that followed, I would occasionally give them a gentle squeeze to see if, just maybe, they were ready to eat. I would also gingerly smell them to see if there was ANY aroma. Nothing.

I was actually quite wary of knocking them off prematurely. On at least one previous occasion, I had picked rock hard pawpaws from a pawpaw tree, and found them inedible, tasteless, much like a very hard avocado. I also let some of these rock hard pawpaws sit inside for days and weeks, hoping they would approach edibility. Sadly, they never approached anything remotely palatable. The best they became was tasteless rubber… again, kind of like an avocado picked far too early that never ripens properly.

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 10:39 pm PST.


The Test Subject Falls In A Storm-Two Days Later, A Taste

On October 20, as is often the case around here, a fierce wind came up for seemingly no apparent reason at all. The gusts must have topped 50 mph, and I began to worry about all my fruit trees snapping in two. (And to think that at one time, as an avid windsurfer, I used to love such high winds, and now, as a rare fruit grower, I cursed my old love.) I was particularly concerned about those pawpaws blowing off the tree, way too early. Please!

Well, the winds finally relented, and I visited the pawpaw tree. Virtually every leaf had been blown off the poor tree. There lying on the ground were my four pawpaws, still rock hard, still clinging stiffly to a single common stem, blown away by fate. I looked to the heavens. How could you do this to me? I was so close!

Now, surely, I thought, I was going to be left with a batch of rubber pawpaws. I smelled them. Nothing. Darned. I grabbed the stem (a dangling four pack) and brought them in anyway.

Two days later, on October 22, still no smell, nothing. But, I noticed that a slight yellow discoloration began to appear on the underside of each fruit. I lifted the four fruits, holding the stem, and I’ll be darned, one of the fruits unceremoniously fell from the stem. Plop. The fruit was still quite hard. Squeezing the fruit, I found only the very tiniest amount of give.

I decided…what the heck…I am going to cut it open and try it. I cut it lengthwise, and with some difficulty, pried the two halves apart. (At the time, I wasn’t thinking I would be posting this entry on Cloudforest, so I did not take a photo of the open fruit at this first stage.) But…

I sampled the fruit and found the following. The texture of the fruit was firm, not creamy. The consistency was much like a firm, still largely green banana. Okay. The color was pale yellow.

The taste was very straight ahead, and by pawpaw standards, innocuous and mild. The degree of banana taste was…well…like the banana we eat from the stores, which let’s face it, is very mild. The sweetness was nothing to write home about, again, about what you would get in a store bought banana. There was no smell. There was no aftertaste whatsoever. There was no complexity, just straight ahead flavor. If I had asked ten Americans to close their eyes, and put a piece of this fruit in their mouths, nine out of ten would probably say that I just put a banana in their mouths.

Curiously, then, here was something very close to banana emulation, at least at this stage. To put this into perspective, I had never tasted a pawpaw before that had this mild banana taste and this firm a texture. So…here was the taste and texture of this cultivar at a first stage.

I separated the remaining 3 fruits from the stem, and took the photo below. In order to illustrate the habit of this particular pawpaw, I arranged them such that two were showing their bellies, and the third, its back. As this cultivar ripens, the belly of the fruit gets golder, while the back remains green. I accordingly christened this modest seedling—Gold Belly. Notice the stem is still attached to one of the fruits, and is still green.

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 10:45 pm PST.


The Fruit Transitions Into The Second Stage

At the four days after the fall mark, I decided to sample a second fruit. The fruit now has a slight aroma, and there is a bit more give in the fruit.

Below is a photo of the fruit on October 24. The bellies of the fruit show further ripening. One fruit has been cut in half, and its appearance underscores that a transition has taken place. When compared to the fruit consumed in the first stage, the flesh now has a deeper yellow color, and it has a decidedly different texture. The texture is now like a thick pudding.

The taste is of strong banana (or as some have noted on Cloudforest-- artificial banana). There is also now a mild, hard to describe aftertaste. Recall that in the first stage, there was no aftertaste whatsoever. There is no hint of any other taste in particular. Essentially, this is strong tasting banana pudding, with a vague aftertaste. This is the fruit in the second stage.

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 10:56 pm PST.


A Close Up of the Pawpaw in the Second Stage

This close up illustrates, I think, a certain attractive, luscious aspect of the fruit at this stage. In general, the pawpaws from my young seedling tree are small and seedy by the standards of many other pawpaws I have seen and eaten. To be clear, I am not holding up this seedling fruit as something particularly special. It is, however, a convenient test subject...

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 11:01 pm PST.


Eight Days After The Fall--Another Taste

After sampling that second fruit, I began to ponder the pawpaw a bit more. Up to this point, my experiences and my discussions with others, had clearly suggested that pawpaws pass through different flavor stages, all of them edible.

I had eaten completely plain tasting pawpaws (no taste) that then transitioned into subtle caramel taste, with little or no banana taste. I had eaten pawpaws that had medium strong banana tastes that then transitioned into a smoky taste. I had eaten pawpaws that had strong banana tastes the then transitioned into a maple taste. And I had eaten a pawpaw that tasted like a cherimoya, that transitioned into who knows what since I just had that single random fruit?

Hmmm…I looked at the two remaining pawpaws and began to hypothesize about what was likely to happen. My guess? At some point, these last two fruits were going to transition into a new flavor, probably, I thought, maple. I decided to wait another four days, until the eighth day, and have a taste.

So…on October 28, I cut open the third fruit. The photo below is of the third fruit on October 28. Considering that all the internet sources indicated that a ripe pawpaw has a shelf life of 2-3 days, I was surprised to find that this fruit tasted identical to the second fruit. It was still in stage 2. I wondered: are there pawpaws that never transition out of the second taste stage? Was this one of them? I doubted it.

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 11:13 pm PST.


What To Do With the Last Fruit?

At this point, I was down to my last pawpaw, and considering I enjoy the fruit, I was tempted to just eat it and be done with the thing. Maybe, I thought, I should eat it a few days later and try to pinpoint the EXACT transition into what I expect will be a third stage. Or should I push the outer limits and try to determine how long I can let this fruit sit, and still have it be edible? I decided on the latter course.

So…I waited…and waited…trying to figure out when to eat my last pawpaw. It got more and more crinkly and bronzed. Finally, on November 7, a full 18 days after this windblown fruit hit the ground, I decided the time was right. Eighteen days of shelf life, and still enjoyable? You bet.

The photo below is of the belly of the fourth fruit on November 7. Notice how brown the stem is.

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 11:16 pm PST.


Eighteen Days On the Shelf--The Back of the Fruit

Here is the back of that same fruit on November 7...trying so hard to stay green. The feel of the fruit, you might think, would be mushy. But, the pawpaw was not particularly mushy to the touch. (Maybe because it is so small and seedy?!) The smell, however, was noticeably stronger than in the second stage.

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 11:20 pm PST.


Eighteen Days On the Shelf--The Fruit is in the Third Stage

The photo below shows the final pawpaw in the third edible stage. It has now been on the shelf so to speak for 18 days. (You will notice, sadly, that it is very seedy!) The texture is still like pudding, but more watery than in the second stage. The color of the flesh is also lighter than it was in the second stage.

It almost appears that the flesh has become brown around the edges, but this is not the case. Actually, the skin has become darker, bronzed, and you are looking at the backside of this darker skin, through slightly more transparent flesh.

At this stage, there is no banana taste. Instead, there is a moderate to strong maple taste. There is also a slight smoky taste in addition to the desirable maple taste. It is perhaps a little sweeter too. And there is a definite aftertaste. To be clear, however, the pawpaw is assuredly enjoyable and edible at this stage.

Is there anything in the preceding authorities that mentions a third stage? Surprisingly, no. Yet, most people who have eaten pawpaws know that they can be eaten in this final stage, when a pawpaw can “go caramel,” or “go maple,” or “go raisin,” “or go almond extract,” or my least favorite, “go smoke.” I admit I was secretly harboring a thought of maybe having my pawpaw “go something new and different!”

Back to KSU’s website, to their credit, they do hint at a third stage when they say “the flavor of a pawpaw fruit can intensify as it over-ripens, as with banana, resulting in pulp that is excellent for use in cooking.” I would like to suggest, however, that this statement is misleading and unnecessarily disparaging.

First, it suggests that the existing “ripe” flavor simply intensifies when the pawpaw overripens. Perhaps this is true of some cultivars. I defer to KSU’s expertise.

But, all the pawpaws I have tasted actually seem to transition from a particular second stage taste into a taste substantially DIFFERENT in the third stage. As ever, I remain open minded, but it is hard for me to consider a caramel taste to be an intensification of banana. As I see it, the third stage taste is best described as essentially different, or distinct from, the second stage taste.

In addition, the KSU statement is unduly negative about consuming pawpaws in the third stage. It implies, not too subtly, that a pawpaw beyond what they consider to be ripe is simply not fit for fresh consumption. A pawpaw at this stage, it seems, is a rotten banana, destined to be put in banana nut bread. That’s not fair.

I have met people who love eating pawpaws at the caramel stage. In fact, I dare say that a few of the rare fruiters reading this right now may well prefer to eat their pawpaws in the third stage when things get very interesting indeed. A more factual less judgmental description would be a welcome change when considering pawpaws in the third stage.

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 11:31 pm PST.


Let's Evaluate the Cultivars in Each of the Three Stages

So...I think there are a number of reasons to scrap the single stage model of pawpaws and transition to a three stage model. First, it more closely corresponds to the truth about this fruit. (The truth is an underrated thing these days.) Second, the three stage model allows us to fully describe ALL the tastes that can be found in a particular pawpaw cultivar. Third, by evaluating each cultivar using a three stage model, you are producing a much better evaluation of the cultivar’s commercial potential. What do I mean by this?

Well, for better or worse, shelf life is important. One can assume that after a fruit is picked, it will be trucked to various locations, then sit on display for some time before it is purchased, then sit in the home of the purchaser. A three stage analysis gives the world a much better idea of what can be expected of a cultivar over the course of this time.

Consider my little pawpaw seedling. Let’s assume I studied it a little bit more carefully and came up with the following profile.

“Gold Belly”

STAGE 1
Duration—First 3 days from picking
Taste-Mild Banana
Texture-Firm, like under ripe banana.
Aroma-None
Aftertaste-None

STAGE 2
Duration—From day 4 to day 10
Taste-Strong Banana
Texture-Pudding
Aroma-Banana liquer
Aftertaste-Mild, Vague

STAGE 3
Duration—From day 11 to day 20
Taste-Maple with some smoke
Texture—Pudding
Aroma—Banana
Aftertaste-Medium

Another pawpaw that I am somewhat familiar with has this kind of profile:

STAGE 1
Duration—First 3 days from picking
Taste—Nothing
Texture—Rubbery
Aroma-None
Aftertaste-None

STAGE 2
Duration—From day 4 to day 7
Taste—Mild Sweet Vague Taste (White Sapote?)
Texture—Thick pudding
Aroma—Negligible
Aftertaste—None

STAGE 3
Duration—From day 8 to day 15
Taste—Mild Sweet Vague Taste With Hint of Caramel
Texture—Thick pudding
Aroma—Strong
Aftertaste—Some

I think you can appreciate that with this sort of analysis, one can better capture the behavior of the fruit in the supermarket and in the home. Depending upon what your theory of the marketplace is, you might want to push for cultivars that meet that theory. You might, for example, believe that most Americans do not purchase mushy fruit (for better or worse, pawpaw flesh is often mushy in the second and third stages). As such, what you want to identify are those cultivars that have an extended first stage, with a marketable taste during this stage. If that was your theory, you would tend toward Gold Belly, over the second cultivar.

Alternatively, you might believe that the best thing to send into the marketplace is a cultivar that NEVER has any strong tastes in it. In other words, it is mild. Under those circumstances, you would want the second cultivar because although you really get no first stage, it gives you a long, mild second and third stage to work with. You get the idea.

Of course, if I had to guess which pawpaw has the best chance of becoming a Safeway pawpaw, I would probably guess the mildest, sweetest, firmest pawpaw with the longest possible first stage.

In America, fruit that is crunchy, sweet and mild tends to sell to the greatest number of people. Is there such a pawpaw cultivar? We do not know. After all the years of research, how strange is that? Perhaps it is a secret somewhere, but do any of the cultivars fit the bill? In any of their stages?

I can just imagine that some of the rare fruiters reading this are now approaching apoplexy, particularly with respect to the idea of consuming a pawpaw in that mild first stage. You are undoubtedly asking: why even consider eating fruit when it has a mild, underpowered taste?! (I feel like I am talking about the virtues of cats at a dog show.) Well, please, take off your rare fruit hat for a second (or is it permanently affixed?) and put on your average consumer hat (it’s in the closet gathering dust).

For better or worse, it turns out that pawpaws can actually be a little bit overpowering for the average American. Some cannot even handle the smell! And yes, I am sorry to break the news to you, but the average American does not want to eat a mushy, custardy fruit. They equate mushy with something gone bad. They want their fruits relatively firm. You see…whether you want to admit it or not, the pawpaw is actually in the major leagues of exotic fruits.

I know what you are saying. I don’t care about those consumers. Feed those timid American fruit eaters to the wolves. We are rare fruiters and proud of our adventurousness. But, remember what I am discussing here: the commercial potential of pawpaws, and which cultivar has the best chance of being commercially successful today. We are not talking about the best tasting pawpaw, or the pawpaw that makes you personally happy.

And, for all of you hard core rare fruiters, I think I have a reasonable proposal, a peace treaty if you will, with the American consumer. You see, the pawpaw offers a wonderful compromise position. In particular, as a three stage fruit, I suspect there is a cultivar out there that can be appealing to the masses in its first stage, appealing to the adventurous in its second stage, and appealing to the hard core rare fruiters in its third stage. Voila! There is no need to wholly “sell out” your rare fruit values in order to help the world identify this commercial cultivar.

Still…if you really feel in you heart of hearts that pawpaws SHOULD be consumed in the second stage only, please keep this in mind. Essentially a cultivar that is marketed to the masses to be consumed primarily in the first stage, will be a "secret agent" in the masses households, a hidden pawpaw marketing campaign for the second and third stages. Undoubtedly, some timid consumers will let the fruit get to second and third stages, and if they were meant to enjoy eating the fruit at these stages, it will happen.

So…let’s scrap the single stage model, and transition to the more truthful three stage analysis. Let’s do the comparitive work on the cultivars that is just not out there. Let's start documenting our finds, and publishing them on the internet, at Cloudforest perhaps. The world, the marketplace is waiting for the results.

Two final proposals that I mentioned previously.
First, there is very little reference on the internet to anyone who is eating pawpaws skin and all. In fact, most references, such as KSU simply tell you not to eat the skin. Yet, the skin of the pawpaw can assuredly be eaten…and…does not, in my experience, really exact too much of a price with respect to the eating experience. So…my question is: why haven’t cultivars been compared on this issue?

If everyone is following the advice of all the authorities, then is it possible that we are missing some cultivars that might, perish the thought, have sweet, experience-enhancing skins? Or better yet, thinking about the wonderful Japanese plums that so entranced Luther Burbank, is it possible that there are cultivars out there with tart skin? That would be great! If they are out there, let's find them.

So…you get the idea. I propose that we also begin to evaluate cultivars on the issue of the edibility of the skin. The silence on this issue is deafening.

A final point...I think it is worth considering the fact that perhaps a majority of pawpaw cultivars out there seem to go in the direction of tasting like a banana.

Pondering this, it seems reasonable to consider the tremendous commercial success of the banana in the United States, and in fact, the whole world. How might the pawpaw relate to the banana? Is it the crazy aunt in the attic, destined to be the butt of jokes? Or could it be something much closer to the banana?

Let’s think a bit about bananas. Here is a fruit that is not advertised as a three stage fruit, but obviously, it is. (You can rest assured that those who grow and sell bananas know this.)

Like the pawpaw, the banana can be enjoyably consumed in any one of three stages. The first stage might be called slightly green. In this stage, the flesh is firm, the sweetness is moderate, and there is a tinge of acidity.

The second stage might be called yellow, with no green or freckles. This eating stage is commonly considered the preferred, or ripe stage. But is it really? And the third stage might be called freckled and cakey. At this stage, the banana is often the sweetest and most filling.

It will be appreciated that the taste and texture of the banana is slightly different at each stage. It will be further appreciated, that individual consumers each have their own favorite stage during which they enjoy eating their bananas. Some might be willing to eat them at any stage.

As a child, I recall that I would only eat my bananas in the first stage, slightly green. Now, as an adult, I prefer them in the second stage, but will actually eat them enjoyably at any of the three stages. Of course, when I eat a banana in the first stage, I generally feel an inexplicable nostalgia, which is not always welcome!

Do you suppose it is possible that there is a pawpaw cultivar out there that closely emulates the taste and texture of the banana that apparently pleases millions of people around the world, the banana that makes the world smile?

Again, I realize that some in the Cloudforest community just know in their hearts that the banana cultivar that the world loves is essentially an underpowered, boring banana, and that several other banana cultivars will knock your socks off. But again, I am again focusing on the commercial potential of the pawpaw, not on the best tasting banana.

And if a pawpaw cultivar can be found that substantially emulates the banana that the world loves…well…such a cultivar would probably be extremely popular and profitable. And why not give it to the world? So…why don’t we at least keep the issue of banana emulation in mind when evaluating cultivars?

So...those are my four proposals. Any comments...other than that this is typically prolix?

The above followup was added by Paul on November 17, 2005 at 11:59 pm PST.


Paul, WOW, you said a mouthful. Very good report, I waded though most of it.

I will have to copy it off, and file it away, so I can read and refer to it when I need to.

I have read that Pawpaw seedlings readily produce edible fruits, but they vary a lot, especially in size and shape.

I think many of us have the more common best sellers, but I know that there are loads of varieties out there.

David

The above followup was added by DavidLJ48, Waterford CA, zone9 on November 18, 2005 at 0:13 am PST.


pawpaws

I'd like to post this on my website. OK?

The above followup was added by phil sauber on November 19, 2005 at 10:59 am PST.
got a couple growing

I' ve got 5 trees in the ground for 2 years now..They are about 3 feet tall, and some should bear fruit this coming summer...The varieties : Sunflower, Prolific, Rebecca's Gold, Sweet Alice, and Wells

The above followup was added by ED Z on November 19, 2005 at 12:06 am PST.


I will let you know...

I have 2 paw paws in my orchard in Oregon (they are now 4 years old) and 2 seedlings not even in the ground here. none of them are a known cultivar. Once I get fruit I will let you know. (And send cuttings if I get anything interesting of course!)

Sheila

Thank you for all the information!

The above followup was added by Sheila Bailey on November 20, 2005 at 8:15 am PST.


Paul's Pawpaw Analysis

Paul,

I think that you are definitely on to something here. There's lots to think about in your posts. I wish that I had more empirical observations to add, but my pawpaw experiences have been so limited.

Almost all of the pawpaw fruit that I have eaten have been of the "Mary Foos Johnson" cultivar, brought by a fruit hobbyist to our local CRFG meetings. Most of the fruit were generally at the soft-ripe stage. But I do recall that some of the fruits that I sampled were developing the translucent flesh and caramel-like flavor that you mention.

These quite-ripe fruits were transitioning to what you term the "third-stage", and I think that I liked them the best. The less ripe fruit tasted a bit bland and dry to me: enjoyable, but nothing to rave about.

As you suggest, other cultivars may taste better at earlier stages of ripeness. "Mary Foos Johnson", on the other hand, may be one variety that is best eaten when the fruits are a notch or two shy of outright rotten.

It does make me wish that I could go on woodland treks through pawpaw country in the autumn. California has many charms, but we're well out of the native range of Asimina triloba, unfortunately! But I sense the only way to get a real appreciation for this fruit is to sample many different types, as the species seems to carry the potential for tremendous variation in taste within its genes. Fruit from one clone, no matter how good, are just not enough.

On commercial pawpaw potential: in addition to the points you raised, the other obvious one is that the seed/flesh ratio of the fruit needs to be improved. As it stands now, most pawpaws seem to have relatively small fruit with a row of relatively large, chunky seeds through the central axis. This can be a little off-putting, and probably quite objectionable to the average consumer.

The new Peterson pawpaw cultivars are said to have better seed/flesh ratios than average, so I look forward to tasting some fruit from these varieties ... some day. (My trees are still quite small.)

Oh, you might want to re-post or link to the above material on the NAFEX boards -- a lot of folks there would probably have some useful comments to add.

The above followup was added by Ashok on November 20, 2005 at 11:42 pm PST.


Tipping Points, Pawpaw Size & Shape, and Other References

Sheila and Ed, good luck, and do let us know what you discover!

Phil, my preference would be for you to simply provide a link on your site to this post. The link would be tied to: http://www.cloudforest.com/cafe/forum/27783.html#27875.

Ashok, I also have a newfound desire to do a little pawpaw exploring myself, but when you consider the range of pawpaws...my goodness...think of all the states you would want to cover. Yipes. And how much of the requisite creekside land is essentially on private property? Can you say: "Get off my land"? Watch out!!

I wanted to clarify one small thing with respect to the test subject mentioned above, the Gold Belly pawpaw. In the first image of the fruit, still on the tree, the belly of the fruit, as I eventually define it, is facing skyward. Kind of counterintuitive. Sorry about that.

A few random comments on what I wrote about above.

Tipping Points

On the issue of evaluating each cultivar to determine its behavior through various stages, a key consideration is when to actually begin the evaluation. Do you wait until the fruit simply plops on the ground on a calm, quiet October day? Or do you pick it green off the tree? When? Tough questions.

My sense is that for each cultivar there will probably be a key moment, or tipping point, when the fruit is still on the tree, wherein if you pick it BEFORE the tipping point, and let it sit, it will simply never ripen, period. You will have a moldy, rubber pawpaw.

Alternatively, if you pick the pawpaw green, AFTER the tipping point, then it wil happily transition through all three of its flavor stages, much like the Gold Belly did in the above experiment.

Alas, the variability of the tipping point does make it more difficult to compare cultivars scientifically. It would ne nice if there were outward signs of the tipping point. Or perhaps the tipping point would correspond to the earliest moment when, if you grabbed ahold of the tree trunk, and shook the tree like it were being subjected to a 50 mph wind, the fruits fall off. :)

In short, we do need to evaluate the tipping points, and eventually either know the tipping points for each cultivar, or come to a consensus on a common approach (eg shake the tree and gather the fruits) as to when we start the clock running. To be clear, I think that the fruit falling off the tree, on a calm day, is simply too late a starting point. I think the fruit is already in the second stage.

Pawpaw Size & Shape

One of the quirkiest fruit questions to consider is the question of size. Is it a simple fruit truism that bigger is always better? Is the world clamoring for cherimoyas as big as watermelons? Or is it more complicated than that? I think it is.

I think we can all agree that if a fruit tastes just awful, having more of it is certainly not better. But let’s assume a fruit is really tasty, a tasty watermelon for example. Assuming you have a group of watermelons all of which taste the same, in this case wonderful, are you going to buy the largest one? Unless you are on your way to a family picnic, which these days is fairly rare, the answer is probably no. In fact, chances are, you are going to buy the smallest one, and hope that it will still fit into your already overcrowded refrigerator after you eat a few slices that day.

Increasingly, it seems, there is a recognition that certain fruits would be better off if they were smaller, and other fruits would be better off if they were larger. Convenience of shipping and storage, and single session consumption, can be important factors to consider.

Ultimately, I think the question of the best size for a fruit is best answered on a case by case basis, never by a simple desire to simply pursue the largest. I am frequently struck by how eagerly rare fruit people celebrate extra-large fruits. Do we really need an apple that cannot be consumed by the average person in one sitting?

What then, what do you think is the optimal size for a pawpaw? Sure, the answer to this question is fairly subjective, but why not discuss it at least? If you just love to gorge on pawpaw flesh, you might want a pawpaw as big as a watermelon. Alternatively, if you find pawpaws to be intimidating, just too rich for your palette, you might favor a cherry-sized pawpaw. Heck, how about a pawpaw the size of a cherry that you just pop into your mouth, skin and all, then spit out a single seed? Is there such a cultivar? Somehow I doubt it.

Let’s focus exclusively for the moment on commercial considerations. Consider that Safeway pawpaw again. What size will sell the best?

To better answer this question, it might make sense to compare the pawpaw to other medium sized fruits. Which size of apple sells the best? What size of orange? And banana? Presumably, the marketplace as it stands right now has answered these questions, and is presenting us with those answers on a daily basis at the grocery store.

I am going to guess that one of the driving considerations for medium sized fruits is that the fruit be of such a size that one person can eat the entire fruit in one sitting, have that experience be positive, then have a desire to repeat the eating experience the next day. If that were in fact, the driving principle, what size should the Safeway pawpaw be?

I know that the current trend in thinking with pawpaws is to produce and celebrate ever larger and larger fruits. We see proud pawpaw growers holding up mango-sized, oval shaped, fruits. Hooray!

Yet, I am inclined to think that the better direction to go in, at least for commercial cultivars, is smaller, banana shaped fruits. I say this because my gut tells me that the average American consumer is going to find pawpaws to be a comparatively rich fruit, one that is best eaten and enjoyed in smaller packages.

For those who are interested, KSU has posted a nutritional analysis of pawpaws at--http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/pawpaw/cooking.htm. Here, you can see that the pawpaw is bursting at the seams with vitamins, minerals, protein and fat. While the pawpaw does not approach the fat levels of the avocado, it certainly has its share of "good" fats. Ounce for ounce, the pawpaw has over twice as much fat in it than a banana, almost four times as much fat in it than an apple, and ten times as much fat in it than an orange. Again, my hunch is that the commercial sweet spot for pawpaws is not going to be in mango sized, but instead, smaller sizes.

As for the issue of shape, as I noted earlier, I see merit in introducing a cultivar that emulates the best selling banana. So...if I could find a cultivar that produces cylindrical, banana shaped fruit, held in banana-like clusters, (assuming it also met other important criteria like long shelf life), that is the cultivar I would bring to market. Which one would you bet on?

Of the existing cultivars out there, it appears that the cultivar that best meets my commercial size and shape assumptions is Taylor. Hidden Springs tells us this about Taylor: “Small fruits, but up to 7 per cluster. Possibly self-fertile.” One Green World indicates: “Taylor often bears striking clusters of up to seven fruit.” It would be interesting to hear of other cultivars that hold their pawpaws like bananas, in clusters.

Other Posts & References

There have been many references to pawpaws in threads on the Cloudforest over the years. For purposes of this thread, it might be useful to reference two previous discussions. I think one of the more interesting pawpaw discussions took place on October 16, 2002, in a thread started by Tom A. (You can get to that thread by going to the top of the main Cloudforest Café page and clicking on the green colored “Click Here to View the Archives.”)

In that thread, Tom, who has probably consumed more white sapotes and cherimoyas than…well…just about any Californian, commented upon his experiences with pawpaws. He noted that he had eaten a number of pawpaws before, and that many of them had simply been disappointing and bland (bland?!!!!)

However, as he described in his post that day, Tom had just sampled some new pawpaw cultivars at a local CRFG event. These cultivars had been developed by one of the nation’s leading pawpaw experts, Neal Peterson, and Tom was favorably impressed. Tom, ever the white sapote-cherimoya fan, however, was not ready to concede that pawpaws could replace his true loves, but his mind had certainly been changed as to their potential. (For what it’s worth, I have heard others say good things about Neal’s cultivars. At the moment, I am growing two of his selections. Neal sells his pawpaw cultivars from his website: www.petersonpawpaws.com).

Axel, Ashok and Luen also offered their thoughts in that thread. Axel and Luen were firm in their belief that pawpaws had considerable merit, and felt that pawpaws were perhaps closest in taste to artificial banana or banana liquer.

Tom’s experiences, both negative AND positive, reinforce the sense that there ARE noticeable differences between the cultivars. Tom also had something to say that has some bearing on the issue of flavor stages. In particular, Tom wrote, “On flavor, some research (maybe Desmond Layne/Snake Jones of KSU?) has been done that shows that pawpaws have more daily change in chemical composition and flavor of any other fruit studied.” I am not sure where Tom found this information, but my experience suggest that it is true.

A more recent pawpaw discussion on the Cloudforest took place in a thread started by another Tom. (Coincidence?). On August 8, 2005, Tom in Iowa started a thread titled "Annona Squamosa problem." (For some reason Tom is not commening on this thread!) At any rate, within that thread, in a detailed pawpaw post dated August 9, Tom in Iowa described his experience eating pawpaws in a wild stand as follows:

"All of the fruits from that population had good to excellent flavor in my opinion. There are a few particular ones that stand out in my memory - one had white flesh of a very creamy, pudding-like consistency, with a mild, sweet, somewhat apple-like flavor. Another had yellow, somewhat firmer flesh of a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. The flavor had a real tropical 'zing' to it, which somehow defies comparison to any other fruit.

People often describe the flavor of the pawpaw as being like a banana, pineapple or mango, but personally I have never tasted any of those flavors in a pawpaw. The best way I can describe the flavor of what I consider a 'typical' pawpaw is that it is similar to the floral, perfumy taste and aroma that you sometimes get from a baked sweet potato (especially one that has spoiled slightly and has a few soft spots on it - no, not a rotten taste - those of you who have eaten a lot of sweet potatos will know what I mean).

I have never tasted a pawpaw that I thought was bad, but then again I have probably only tasted pawpaws from about half a dozen different clones. However, it's important to note that even a good cultivar can bear mediocre fruit if it does not receive enough water throughout the growing season. Once it's established, a cultivated pawpaw will appear to grow perfectly well in dry upland areas and the leaves will not show any water stress - the fruits however, will be abnormally small, dry and grainy!

Soft-ripe pawpaws are great, but you must also try firm-ripe fruit. The flavor is somewhat less sweet, and the fruit is buttery and avocado-like in texture. Euell Gibbons discusses this aspect of pawpaw fruit in "Stalking the Wild Asparagus"."

Tom’s comments, I think further underscore the fact that different cultivars simply taste different. His comments also suggest that pawpaws progress through different edible stages.

Tom's reference to Euell Gibbons' book piqued my interest a bit, and I managed to find Euell Gibbons’s book in the local library the other day. In this 1962 book dedicated to describing the many wild fruits and vegetables of the United States, Gibbons dedicates a few pages to pawpaws. He has the following to say on the issues of pawpaw flavors and pawpaw timing:

“The papaw looks, tastes and smells like a tropical fruit.….

In Indiana, I once heard someone ask a Hoosier lad what papaws tasted like. Since flavors are notoriously hard to describe, his answer surprised me by its preciseness. He said, “They taste like mixed bananers and pears, and feel like sweet pertaters in your mouth.” I can’t improve on that description.

The fruit usually falls from the tree when mature, and the best papaws are often gathered from the ground. Boys, and those first making the acquaintance of this fruit, usually prefer it dead ripe and very soft. When I was a boy I liked it this way, but after years of eating this luscious wild fruit, I have come to prefer it ribe but still somewhat firm. ….

Ripe papaws have a heavy sweet fragrance that seems pleasant at first, but if one is continuously subjected to this aroma for several days it becomes cloying. For this reason papaws should never be ripened in the house. The sweet odor will permeate every room. I have known people to be turned against the fruit from having to smell it too long. “

Again, this reference from Gibbons undercores the multi-stage nature of pawpaws. Here we have someone with one of the most adventurous palettes in American history, essentially telling us that as he got older, he came to prefer his pawpaws a little bit more tame. It sounds to me like he formerly liked eating them in the third stage, but now he liked to eat them just between the first and the second stages.

An interesting pawpaw article entitled "A Passion for Pawpaws," which touches upon some of these issues, can be found at http://www.post-gazette.com/food/20030918pawpaw0918fnp2.asp. This article talks a little bit about the history of pawpaws and further describes the goings on at the annual Ohio Pawpaw festival. The writer is drafted to become one the judges in the "best tasting pawpaw" competition.

She notes that one of the submissions to the competition, "Sweet Ashley" is quickly rejected. One of the experienced pawpaw growers intercedes: "Don't eat this one!" ... "It's not ripe." The grower then cuts the fruit open "to show a white flesh rather than the golden meat of the perfectly ripe pawpaw. When the fruit is ready for picking, it yields when pressed with a finger and snaps off easily at the stem."

I do wonder about this fruit, was it at least edible? Obviously, in a tasting competition, a pawpaw in the first stage is not going to win, but must it be completely rejected like this?

The writer of the piece had this to say about the differences in taste between the cultivars. "We were amazed at the range of flavors and smells from Asimina triolba. Viny (another judge) went for the pineapple-y flavor of what was called the Flat Rock, as in Illinois, while I gave high marks to the Colgate, dubbed the "Hoosier banana."'

This article (and of course the very idea of a tasting competition itself) suggest that there are appreciable differences between the cultivars. To better discuss this issue, you might draw an analogy to a color spectrum. If you think that the differences between pawpaw cultivars are really very subtle (they all taste like banana for example), then you might say that we are really talking about different shades of the same color..say...red.

Alternatively, if you think that the differences between the cultivars are appreciable, really noticable, then you might say that we are dealing here with different colors. We have a red, a blue and a green. Which do you think more accurately describes the situation?

The above followup was added by Paul on November 21, 2005 at 1:14 pm PST.


Pawpaw comments

Great synopsis Paul - sorry to join the party late! It's November in Iowa, so the tropics haven't been on my mind as much, lately. All of my tropical fruit trees are now in doors for the winter. This summer I had the exciting opportunity to explore a region which is the opposite of tropical - I traveled north through Manitoba all the way up to Churchill (just south of the arctic circle on Hudson Bay, a.k.a. "the polar bear capitol of the world"). I went up in June/July, so there were few fruits to sample, although the wild strawberries were quite good.

Anyway, getting back to pawpaws….

Thanks, Paul, for showing the suckering abilities of pawpaw. When you're in the pawpaws native habitat, it can form quite spectacular stands this way. This is especially true in areas of rather open forest, i.e., where there are fairly widely spaced overstory trees, and therefore not a completely enclosed canopy. This seems to provide some shelter for the pawpaws while still allowing a good deal of sunlight in. Pawpaws under these conditions form very lush stands that look like a tropical jungle. With its big, droopy leaves, a vigorous pawpaw stand can create a solid wall of vegetation. Under lower light conditions, pawpaws may still be plentiful, but tend to be more leggy and with leaves held horizontally to catch light.

My favorite stage for eating pawpaws is immediately after they have fallen from the tree. In my experience, they are fully ripe at this stage, and do not improve with further aging. The best way to gather them at this stage is simply to give the trunk a gentle shake and let the ripe ones fall (or for small trees, give the fruits a gentle pull and collect the ones that readily detach). By the time they start to show black spots on the skin, the flesh often becomes transluscent, watery and rather flavorless. Of course, handling the fruits also causes the skin to blacken, so your hand-picked fruits may still be fine even if they are somewhat discolored (especially if you're impatient like me and are touch-testing them every day). However, a fruit on the ground that is showing brown/black has probably been there too long to be edible.

For my experience with pawpaw flavor, see Paul's recap of my earlier comments. While pawpaws often have a pronounced tropical 'zing' and a very exotic aroma, I think some of the published descriptions (such as those referenced in catalogs and websites) are not very apt. For example, I have never tasted mango in a pawpaw, and certainly not pineapple (the fruits I have tasted had essentially no acidity). Few people have tasted or written about pawpaws, and I suspect that a few creative descriptions have been repeated unquestioningly be people who have not sampled the fruit themselves. This is not to disparage the quality of pawpaw fruit in any way - the pawpaw is one of my favorite fruits, it just doesn't taste like pineapple or mango, in my opinion.

The comparison to banana is always interesting, and I know from past discussions that Paul and I differ a bit on this point. In the pawpaw aroma, I can certainly detect a dark, earthy, alcholic banana smell, which Paul aptly has described as "banana ambrosia". There is also some of this in the taste, although not nearly as much, in my experience. The element of banana in pawpaw flavor is so faint that there is very little if any resemblance to a banana for my taste buds. Of course, flavor in pawpaws is quite variable and maybe I just haven't sampled the right varieties yet. Aside from the flavor, there is also an element of starchiness in a banana which is completely lacking from pawpaw fruits.

I have observed an interesting spectrum in terms of the texture of pawpaw fruit. On one end, there is very smooth, rich and creamy - essentially, like pudding. On the other end, there is firmer, with a melt-in-your-mouth consistency (sort of like a thick meringue). Both are pleasing to my palate. Occasionally there are fruits with a grainy texture, which in my experience seem to come from under-watered trees (these fruits tend also to be undersized, which reinforces this suspicion).

I would be cautious about eating pawpaw skins. It may be fine to eat one or two, but the big question is what the effects will be if one were to eat, say, one or two dozen fruits with skins. There are respectable toxic properties associated with the seeds and vegetative parts of the plant, and it is conceivable that there is some of this in the skin as well. But then again, maybe not. What did the skin taste like, Paul?

Despite its wonderful unique flavor, I suspect that the pawpaw will never become a commercial success. Ripe pawpaws are just so delicate and have very thin skin. Interstingly, the pawpaw is technically a compound fruit, with the individual segments separate from each other, as if each were a separate fruit (any botanists know the name for this? There are a few other examples of this arrangement, such as Akebia quinata…). In other words, each pawpaw "fruit" is analogous to the indivual segments of a sugar apple or cherimoya. In other words, a cherimoya fruit is analagous to a whole cluster of pawpaws.

The cherimoya skin is not the best in the world for protection, but it does the job reasonably well. One would think that a fruit that evolved in the direction of exposing the individual segments would logically add even more external protection for them, but it seems that just the opposite is the case. The lack of a protective skin that would withstand packing and shipping seems like a significant challenge for selective breeding, as does softness of the ripe fruit. Also, the pawpaw aroma, enchanting though it may be, is also quite potent. I can imagine this as an obstacle in a supermarket setting.

I suppose that the closest thing to a pawpaw that has been commercially marketed is the cherimoya. The cherimoya is indeed available in midwestern supermarkets; I have sampled it several times in Iowa. Unfortunately, supermarket cherimoyas leave much to be desired. Each fruit that I have sampled has been grossly over-sweet, with grainy, stringy, fishy-textured flesh. I have never had the pleasure of eating a tree-ripened cherimoya, but given its reputation, I can only assume that the supermarket variety is a far inferior product. The failure (in my judgement) of the cherimoya as a commercial fruit does not bode well for the pawpaw, which is so much more fragile.

However, there is nothing to stop the pawpaw from succeeding as a seasonal delicacy in farmers markets, much as morel mushrooms are a spring delicacy throughout much of the eastern U.S. Like the pawpaw, the morel mushroom is fragile and has a fairly short shelf-life, but the flavor is so outstanding that there is always a huge demand for them. The pawpaw also has an outstanding flavor, truly a delicacy just waiting to be discovered by the public.

Of course, I've been treating the commercial prospects of the pawpaw only as a table fruit. Pawpaw pulp freezes reasonably well, and could therefore be marketed as processed frozen pulp without a huge reduction in quality. This, of course, bypasses the problems of the fragility and perishability of the fresh fruit. It would also give people a taste for pawpaws year around, thereby increasing demand for the fresh fruit in the short season when they are availalble.

Best,

Tom

The above followup was added by Tom in Iowa on November 22, 2005 at 9:19 am PST.


Good To Hear From You Tom

Welcome back Tom. With respect to Canada.. the Banff area, and the Icefields Parkway in particular, are very close to tops on my list. Very few places on earth are more beautiful...well...at least in the summer!

Tom, I defer greatly to all of your experience out in the field eating wild pawpaws. But...I am somewhat perplexed that you have yet to taste a pawpaw that has a strong banana taste. Hmmm...

I do not think this is due to the fact that your taste buds are appreciably different from mine. Instead, I suspect this is because not all cultivars taste of banana (something that I know from my limited experience) and you have simply, yet to taste those cultivars that do taste of banana.

As for the mango references, I am in the same boat with you. I have yet to taste one that reminds me of a mango. With respect to the repeated references to pineapple tastes, this to me is the most interesting thing, because it implies acidity. I haven't really tasted strong acidity in any pawpaw.

It may be that I need to adjust my thinking on what it means for something to taste like a pineapple. I suppose there is such thing as pineapple taste, independent of acidity. Hmmmm....And again, if I adjust my thinking a bit, I suppose I have tasted something like this in some of the pawpaws I have eaten. The one and only one pawpaw that I ate that tasted of cherimoya was perhaps aptly described as having hints of pineapple. Hmmm....

As for eating pawpaw skins...if it is dangerous, I certainly do not want to encourage doing it. However, at the moment, I am not aware of information suggesting danger. Can you cite it? The fact that all manner of wild animals seem to eat pawpaws, skin and all, sort of implies (but assuredly does not prove) that the skin is okay to eat.

I ate the skin from a few of those Gold Belly fruits. The skin was completely tasteless and readily eatable. It reminded me of the "skin experience" you get when you eat a Bartlett pear. The pear is luscious...but...the skin in your mouth is not. It's kind of gritty under your teeth. You begin to feel that the skin is very unwelcome, an annoyance in your mouth, but the experience of eating the flesh pretty much overwhelms your annoyance, and you sort of make peace with the skin. That is the way it felt to me...

As for the idea that the commercial success of the pawpaw is greatly hindered by its tenderness, I think the three stage analysis, if it produces a worthy cultivar, may well resolve this issue. Truly, for those who are interested in exploring the commercial potential of pawpaws, it is time to stop thinking personally about the fruit. The fruit can be eaten firm, even if you do not prefer to eat it at this stage. The fruit can be picked firm, even if this is not your favored technique.

As for you third stage description, again, I am puzzled. As before, I suspect that you have yet to taste the many cultivars that DO NOT go flavorless in the third stage, but instead, go caramel. The third stage in these fruits is very pungent and intimidating! Watch out!!!!!

But...let's try to square these two opposite observations. Your comments suggest that different cultivars taste different in the third stage. That shouldn't be too surprising. Your experience shows that the third stage can be bland and flavorless...something I have never experienced, but is somewhat encouraging. A pawpaw cultivar that goes mild (to some tasteless) and sweet in the third stage might be out there. That might actually sell better than one that goes strong caramel or maple. (For what it's worth, your experience of the pawpaw going tasteless directly contradicts the KSU statement about intensification of taste with ripeness.)

On the aroma issue, I actually think that this is a very serious issue that will hurt the pawpaw's acceptance in grocery stores. Very few stores are going to want their whole store to smell like pawpaws. Accordingly, I would be intrigued by a cultivar that has fruit will little smell. Does one exist?

Tom, your description of the fruit as compound is interesting...Is there a source that explains this further?

As for cherimoyas in the marketplace...they seem to be really, really bad, awful, yuck, rock bottom! I cannot see how they could possibly create return customers! How strange and sad! Curiously...I think that even my humble little Gold Belly pawpaw after sitting for eighteen days would create more return customers!

I think the pawpaw will have its day in the US marketplace, and because it is readily grown anywhere in the US, I predict... it will eventually surpass the cherimoya in sales. Sorry Axel...for shame!


The above followup was added by Paul on November 22, 2005 at 6:18 pm PST.


Back from Thanksgiving...

Thanks, Paul, for your thoughtful response! I posted my first comment just before going away for my Thanksgiving break, and hence am just reading your followup today.

Canada was very, very beautiful indeed. I traveled all the way through the transition from parkland to boreal forest to tundra, and also saw fascinating geological features (impressive granite outcrops, frost polygons, etc., etc.). Certain elements did remind me of the tropics, however, particularly some of the showy orchid species which populate the roadside ditches, and the carnivorous plants which inhabit the peatlands.

In practice, most people I know avoid eating pawpaw skins, although I can point to no evidence which says that they are harmful. Maybe it's perfectly fine to eat them. I just wondered whether toxins in other green parts of the plant might also be present in the skin.

I do agree with your assessment of the three stages of pawpaw ripeness. I only meant that, in my experience, a tree-ripened fruit that falls of its own volition (as opposed to a hand-picked or prematurely wind-blown fruit) is already at or very close to the third stage you've described. Unless the fruits have been sunburned (as in your photo), most of the fruits have a clean green or yellow-colored skin at this time. When collecting fruits from the ground in a wild stand, I avoid fruits that are turning black, because many of them have been on the ground for long enough that they are actually starting to decay. Of course, your last fruit was also blackened by the time you consumed it, but I presume it had also been handled a great deal by that time, which seems to encourage premature blackening.

In terms of a good description of compound fruits, I would try looking up any literature with technical descriptions of the Annonaceae, or just general fruit descriptions in botany textbooks.

In a nutshell, many familiar fruits are "simple fruits", arising from flowers that have only one pistil. In an apple, for example, the lone stigma of a flower receives pollen, and the lone ovary develops into the fruit. In the Annonaceae, as in some other families, each flower has many pistils. Each pistil gives rise to a fruit. In the cherimoya, these fruits are all meshed together into a compound fruit (in other words, each little segment of the cherimoya is actually a fruit borne of its own pistil). In the pawpaw, however, the fruits are not meshed together, but seperate. However, you can tell that they originate from the same flower because they grow in characteristic clusters. You have a good photo of this already posted, where there are four pawpaws growing out of the same stem. That stem was formerly the peduncle of a single flower.

You can verify this by examining the flower of cherimoyas or pawpaws. In cherimoya flowers, the pistilis are small enough that you'll probably have to examine them under a dissecting microscope, but you should be able to see the multiple pawpaw pistils clearly with the naked eye. You can also see the multiple pistils very clearly in flowers of Akebia quinata, which bears clustered fruits that look remarkably like pawpaws (and are also edible).

Compound fruits that arise from multiple pistils of a single flower (as in the Annonaceae) are more precisely known as "aggregate fruits". Another type of compound fruit also exists - where each flower has only one pistil and bears only one fruit, but these fruits eventually become meshed together as an "multiple fruit". The pineapple is an example of a multiple fruit.

There are some other even more unusual examples, such as the strawberry. There are many pistils in a strawberry flower, but these give rise to the little seed pits on the surface of the strawberry. The flesh of the strawberry is actually an enlarged receptacle, and not truly a fruit at all (technically speaking, it is the tiny individual pits that are the true fruits).

My supermarket cherimoyas were indeed very bad. I look forward to the day when I can sample one freshly ripened off the tree! I also look forward to the day when pawpaws are readily available in the marketplace. Let me know when you discover that new variety, Paul!

Best,

Tom

The above followup was added by Tom in Iowa on November 28, 2005 at 12:12 am PST.


Compound Fruits & Determining Shape

Tom,

Interesting stuff. Do you suppose the tendency of pawpaw fruits to fuse together is an indication that they have the ability to mimic the cherimoya and become compound fruits? If so, it suggests that there may be a pawpaw out there that REALLY went down the cherimoya path, and produced a very large compound fruit. We can call it the godzilla pawpaw. :)

As I noted above, though, when I think commercially about this fruit, I do not think it is desirable to move toward ever larger fruits. Instead, I tend to think the direction to go in is thin, and cylindrical, in bunches. I have heard that one of the problems with pawpaws is that they fail to produce consistently sized fruit on the same tree. In other words, on the same tree, you often have all shapes and sizes. Stores (and packers) of course, tend to prefer a consistent size and shape for fruit. All things being equal, fruit of a consistent size is to be preferred.

One of the interesting things about cherimoyas is that because they are a compound fruit, if you get only certain stigmas pollinated, the resulting fruit gets a little bit mishapen. As a result, many people recommend hand pollination, at least in part, to produce a nice looking fruit. A Cherimoya that is not fully and completely pollinated might be thought of as a collection of ones and zeroes. It is comprised of some pollinated segments (ones) and some non-pollinated segments (zeroes)... though perhaps these are voids (which is...after all... something).

Returning to the pawpaw, each individual pawpaw fruit, it would seem is a one, that is to say, it would not exist at all, but for the fact that it was pollinated. Its shape, therefore, it seems, is not dictated by differential pollination like the cherimoya.

The question I then have is what determines the actual shape of a pawpaw? If the fruit is a swollen ovary, then is it the shape of that particular ovary before it was swollen that determines the shape? If so, then the diversity of shapes with respect to pawpaws is essentially a product of the fact that each pawpaw tree has distinctively shaped ovaries. Further, if the same pawpaw tree produces different sized and shaped fruits, then this would suggest that that particular pawpaw tree does not produce consistently shaped ovaries in its flowers.

Alternatively and/or additionally, is the shape of the fruit dependent upon which pawpaw pollen is pollinating that particular flower? Hmmm....Self-pollination seems to be considered rare in pawpaw circles. If you do have a tree that is self-fertile, will it produce a certain first shape when it is self-pollinating, and a certain second shape, when it is being pollinated by another pawpaw tree?

And of course, you do have the nature/nurture issue to address. As you note, the amount of water and nutrition that a particular pawpaw receives undoubtedly has a role to play. The tree must allocate resources when they become scarce. But...for the sake of simplicity...assume the tree has all it needs and "nurture" is out of the picture. What determines the size and shape of the fruit?

It would be kind of interesting to introduce pawpaw pollen into a cherimoya flower to see if you could essentially create a cherimoya fruit that separated out its components, rather than fused them together. I know that Jack has tried something like this, and I have seen one detailed discussion on this cross before, but I have yet to hear of anyone who has done it successfully. I know what Axel would say. Why mess with the Cherimoya when it is already so close to perfect? :)

The above followup was added by Paul on November 29, 2005 at 6:43 pm PST.


Pawpaw pollination

Paul,

Like you, I have certainly observed variation in fruit size/shape on the same tree. My impression that the degree of pollination is at least somewhat related to size. If every pistil in a flower is fertilized and a bunch of pawpaws is produced, the individual pawpaws tend to be smaller than if only a single fruit was produced. It seems there may only be a certain amount of resources invested in each bunch, so the more fruits there are, the more the plants resources are split between them.

Also, whether each pistil receives enough pollen to fertilize all of the ovules may also play a role. If only two ovules are pollinated, leading to the production of two seeds, the plant is not going to produced a fruit that is full-sized just to carry those few seeds (the function of the fruit flesh is to attact animals to transport their seeds, so investing lots of expensive flesh-building resources into a fruit with low reproductive potential is not advantageous).

I suspect that cross-pollinating pawpaws with other, genetically distinct individuals (or other species) would not have an effect on fruit size or shape, unless the effeciency of the donor sperm in fertilizing the ovules was affected. The fruit flesh is genetically part of the "mother" plant, so it should not be effected, per se, by the cross-pollination. The seeds would be genetically different, and their size and shape might be changed somewhat (as with Mendel's peas with smooth versus wrinkled seeds), although I can't imagine the effect being so dramatic as to change the size of the fruit in a signficant way.

I wonder how many pawpaw fruits could potentially be fused together like the one in your photo. If it could be 3 or 4, that would be a big fruit! In that one of yours, was the flesh contiguous between the two (like a cherimoya) or was there some sort of barrier between the two?

The above followup was added by Tom in Iowa on December 03, 2005 at 2:06 pm PST.


My Estimation of Paw Paw Flavor

I prefer the paw paw flavor of the freshly picked or fallen fruit- not when it has been refrigerated for several days. I find that on aging the flavor becomes more "caramel-like", which I don't like. Further, I prefer the taste of paw paw over cherimoya from the market. I find the cherimoya has a sourish after taste that i don't appreciate.

The above followup was added by David Carver on January 16, 2006 at 6:59 pm PST.


pawpaw flavor

Very interesting subject and observations. I too have wondered why nothing much has been written concerning differences in flavor among the many different varieties. In my experience pawpaws would be in the first stage of ripeness on the day they fall from the tree. I have never noticed any aroma on fruit at this time and it normally doesnt have any aroma until at least the second/third day from naturally falling. I have noticed 'overleese' to be a particularly great tasting variety in all stages and is presently my favorite. 'Mango' is productive with large fruit size but flesh is very soft. Too soft in my opinion. 'Sunflower' and 'wells' can leave a bitter aftertaste. I have noticed this several years in a row. Both dry and wet years. This is very perplexing to me as not every fruit exibits this even from the same bunch. Some 'sunflower' and 'wells' are quite good and both strongly suggest banana to my taste. Has anyone else noticed this?

The above followup was added by Derek Morris on January 17, 2006 at 9:19 am PST.


Thanks David and Derek--Can You Elaborate?

David,

It sounds like you prefer pawpaws in what I have termed the "first stage" which some might consider a little mild. I am curious. Perhaps you can tell us a little bit more about what you think they actually taste like at this stage. Mild banana? Plain? And was the consistency of your fruit at this stage firm? Firmer than in the later stages? Have you tasted a number of different cultivars at this stage? Can you report any of your cultivar findings or preferences?

Derek,

Your description of that first stage, and later stages, seems to substantially correspond to what I have described. You mention your experiences with Sunflower, Wells, Mango and Overleese. And, you mention that so far, you have found Overleese to be excellent, your favorite, in all three flavor stages.

You also mention that individual fruits, on the same tree, can taste appreciably different. In particular, some fruits will have bad after-tastes in them, while other fruits on the same tree, will taste just fine. I have heard about this with respect to pawpaws before, but I have yet to experience it directly myself.

As I see it, this would complicate ones desire to identify superior cultivars for commercial production if it were essentially "the rule" when it comes to pawpaw trees. On the other hand, is it possible that certain cultivars can be found that are quite consistent in their fruit quality? Is Overleese "more consistent" in your opinion?

I just received a copy of the Newsletter from the Pawpaw Foundation, and was pleasantly surprised to read something written by you regarding your experiences growing and serving pawpaws. (Your article also mentions that you are growing Mitchell and Prolific.) I am curious if you might perhaps have the ability to roughly fill in a listing of your impressions for each cultivar, along the lines of something like this:

Overleese:

Stage 1--Taste= ; Texture=
Stage 2--Taste= ; Texture=
Stage 3--Taste= ; Texture=

Sunflower:

Stage 1--Taste= ; Texture=
Stage 2--Taste= ; Texture=
Stage 3--Taste= ; Texture=

Etc.

In your article in the Newsletter, you mention making pawpaw ice cream and serving it to others. You describe how you were pleasantly surprised by the many different flavor descriptions that people provided, including: orange, banana-mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, peach, eggnog, pistachio, and persimmon. I am curious if you feel that by putting pawpaws in ice cream, the flavor profile of pawpaws "expands" into this seemingly incredible variety. In other words, is pawpaw ice cream even more complex than raw pawpaws?

With your experiences with ice cream, do you think this is where the pawpaw will first enter the larger marketplace? Or do you think one cultivar, perhaps Overleese, is ready for the fresh fruit marketplace right now?


The above followup was added by Paul on March 11, 2006 at 11:37 pm PST.


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