Everything You Need To Know About Preparing And Eating Pawpaws

You need to try pawpaw ice cream!

January 18, 2018
pawpaw on tree
Mitch Mandel

So you’re growing—or foraging for—pawpaws (Asimina triloba), the largest, edible fruit native to the United States that tastes like a cross between mango and banana, with a dense, custardy texture. Inevitably someone will ask you, “What do you do with them?”

Early in my pawpaw days I would have respond, defensively, “You just eat them!” Pawpaw is unlike anything else our climate can produce, afterall, why would you want to do anything other than enjoy it fresh?

Related: The Beginner’s Guide To Growing Pawpaw

But I’ve seen the light. Although there may be truth in the above, as I’ve transitioned from wild picker to backyard grower, I’ve realized that not only was that answer unhelpful, I simply couldn’t eat them all.  Indeed, I need to do something—freeze, cook, share, something—with all those pawpaws ripening on my counter.

Before you can use pawpaw in a recipe, however, you’ll need to process the fruit. Below are tips for processing, freezing, cooking, and more, with pawpaws.

where to buy pawpaw
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Where to buy pawpaws

If you’re not growing pawpaws yourself, they can sometimes be a challenge to acquire. Traditionally, most Americans have gathered them from the wild. Some local food co-ops stock the fruit in season, and certain farmers markets may offer pawpaws, if there is a local producer or forager.

If your community lacks a pawpaw grower, or a pawpaw pickin’ place, there are a few online resources, including Earthy Delights, a premier distributor of fresh pawpaws.

Integration Acres, a permaculture farm in Athens County, Ohio, offers a full line of pawpaw products. In addition to pawpaw popsicles (Pawpaw Pops), pawpaw-maple vinaigrette, and a number of other products, Integration Acres offers frozen pawpaw pulp in two pound bags. The farm is the largest processor of pawpaws in the world (and, of note, founders of the annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival).

pawpaw tree
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How to process pawpaws

Processing pawpaws—separating the edible pulp from seeds and skin—is not an easy task. The fruit’s skin is thin and delicate, and doesn’t easily peel. And a significant amount of pulp will cling stubbornly to the fruit’s numerous seeds, which, if not removed, results in waste. Although industrial hoppers can be utilized, with good results, they are often cost-prohibitive. This has been a long-standing challenge for commercial growers.

But for the backyard grower, with the right amount of love for the labor, processing can in fact be done with a bit more ease.

I have found that chilled pawpaws are easier to process than fruit kept at room temperature: seeds can be pried from their seed sacks—the pulp clinging to the fruit’s seed—with far more ease. With a knife, seeds can be sliced from the pulp and then “popped” free from the fruit.

Related: 9 Genius Ways To Freeze Your Garden Produce Without Resorting To Plastic

To start, cut the chilled fruit in half. Remove seeds with a knife or spoon and place in a bowl. Using a spoon, scoop remaining pulp into a separate bowl. When finished, agitate pulpy seeds in a colander, over a large bowl, to separate any remaining pulp. Combine the two bowls of pulp, and, depending upon desired use, either puree or lightly mash. Fruit can now be used or frozen. If freezing, I recommend doing so in two- to four-cup batches, labeled in freezer bags for easy use in future recipes. Pulp can be frozen flat in the bags and then neatly stacked.

Note: Pawpaw skin is bitter. Avoid even the smallest bits of skin in your finished pulp as this can negatively affect the overall product.

 

How To Process Pawpaws More Quickly

Do you have so many pawpaws that processing them entirely by hand seems especially daunting? Then a modified Roma tomato processor might be your answer.

Ron Powell, president of the North American Pawpaw Growers’ Association, has found a Roma tomato processor, with an inch and a half removed from the spiral auger  to accommodate for the fruit’s large seeds, to be the most effective and cost efficient way to separate pulp from seed. The fruit is cut in half, as described above, and then the pulp and seeds are tossed into the hopper. Seeds should be passed through the hopper twice to capture the most pulp. An electric motor can be attached to the processor for increased speed.

Related: 7 Fruits That Taste Better If You Pick Them In The Wild

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To cook or not to cook

A few of the most frequently cited pawpaw recipes require baking: pawpaw breads and puddings, for example. Personally, I prefer frozen or fresh applications and try to avoid heating the pulp. In my experience, excess heat produces undesirable flavors. In any case, cooking the fruit seems to alter what is unique about pawpaw—its flavor, its hint of the tropics, are often diminished. And certainly pawpaw deserves to live to its highest potential.

The good news? Pawpaw ice cream is perhaps the fruit’s highest calling. It’s easy to make, and it’s a use for pawpaw that’s long been appreciated. In 1905, Indiana horticulturalist James A. Little wrote, “There is no finer dessert than pawpaws eaten with cream and sugar.” A number of creameries throughout Pawpaw Country are now offering pawpaw products, including pawpaw gelato at Zingerman’s Creamery, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a classic pawpaw ice cream Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream in Charleston, West Virginia.

Related: These Are The Best Winter Fruits In Your Area

pawpaw ice cream
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Favorite pawpaw treats

 

Pawpaw Ice Cream

2 cups pawpaw pulp (or more, if you have it)
1 cup sugar
2 cups cream
2 cups milk

Combine the pawpaw and sugar. Stir in the cream and milk. Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according the manufacturer’s directions.

Note: Vanilla, walnuts, and other flavors and ingredients work well with pawpaw. But if this is your first batch, I would encourage you to try it plain and to let the pawpaw stand on its own.

 

Easier Pawpaw Ice Cream

Buy your favorite vanilla ice cream. Allow to soften considerably on your kitchen counter. Fold in pawpaw pulp to incorporate. Refreeze, and serve. Voila, pawpaw ice cream. (Try topping your ice cream with this easy homemade coconut whipped cream.)

 

Beer

Pawpaw beer is as old as America. Or almost.

Brewing with pawpaws is an established tradition in the eastern United States. In the early 1800s, botanist François André Michaux noted that “At Pittsburg, some persons have succeeded in making from [pawpaw] spirituous liquor,” and in 1905, James A. Little reported that “brandy, equal to peach brandy, is made of pawpaws.” In 1921, an Ohio newspaper wrote, “Pawpaw beer, properly made, is said to have the hardest kick of any of the home brew drinks. It has become quite popular in some parts of Ohio since the coming of prohibition.”

Though its popularity among home brewers may have waned over the course of the following century, pawpaw’s revival with craft brewers has been swift. In the state of Ohio, where the tradition was previously noted, at least a dozen breweries produce pawpaw beer annually, including Cleveland’s Buckeye Brewing, Athen’s Jackie O’s, and Fifty West Brewing Company in Cincinnati.

In Durham, North Carolina, Fullsteam Brewery has produced a Belgian-style Tripel brewed with over 100 pounds of pawpaw per batch. The fruit is all produced by a single orchardist, Wynn Dinnsen, in nearby Chatham County.

Experiment with adding pawpaw to your own homebrew beer or, if beer isn’t your style, try using it to flavor your homebrewed kombucha.

 

Wine

Homemade wines and meads are popular amongst pawpaw enthusiasts. But only a few commercial wineries have ever produced pawpaw wine.

Wildside Winery, in Versailles, Kentucky, is one of those wineries. According to their website’s product description, Wildside’s pawpaw wine is sold cloudy because they’ve found that if they subject it to a “fining” process then their pawpaw flavor is sacrificed. “So we go for leaving in all the flavor,” they state. Their wine is made with pawpaws from an orchard just a few miles away.

Andrew Moore is author of Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, a cultural and natural history of the largest edible fruit native to the United States, and a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award nominee in the Writing & Literature category.