Friday, October 2, 2009

Pawpaw Adventure Part Two: Hoopla

A little information is a dangerous thing, as any dilettante can tell you. Being a neophyte pawpaw enthusiast, my first stop for information was, of course, Wikipedia's entry for pawpaws.

After reading about pawpaws, I was even more smitten than before. I suppose it's like having a great date, and then looking for your date's profile on Facebook. When you see your date's Facebook profile it only makes you fall a little bit harder for them. So it was with the pawpaws.

First, I admired their tenacity. Pawpaw is the only member of the family Annonaceae that can hack it outside of the tropics. They think nothing of harsh Ohio winters.

However, they are a little finicky. Pawpaws cannot self-pollinate, and their blooms are vapid and weakly perfumed. So they have trouble attracting pollinators. Pawpaws' main pollinator is the fruit fly. This made me feel a bit better about super race of fruit flies I have been inadvertently breeding in my kitchen--fruit flies that are impervious to traps of any kind. I should have bottled my fruit flies and taken them to the pawpaw grove when the trees were blooming. I also found out that some pawpaw growers place road kill under blooming pawpaw trees to attract pollinating insects or hang chicken necks from the branches, which rot and attract flies, to insure good cross pollination.

Even after imagining rotten meat swinging from the boughs of pawpaw trees, I was mostly in shock that I had never heard about pawpaws before. My first theory was that pawpaws simply aren't suited to industrialized agriculture like apples and oranges. According to Wikipedia, "the shelf life of the ripe fruit is almost non-existent, for it soon ripens to the point of fermentation." Slow food international seems to confirm this when they inducted the pawpaw to the US Ark of Taste in 2004.
As the US Slow Food website explains, "To qualify for the US Ark of Taste, food products must be:

"Outstanding in terms of taste
—as defined in the context of local traditions and uses" (Check: pawpaws have a hauntingly tropic flavor-somewhere between a mango, pineapple, avocado, and melon.)

"At risk
biologically or as culinary traditions" (Check: Who the hell has even heard of a pawpaw?)

"Sustainably produced "
(Check: Most pawpaws in Ohio are wild, and pawpaws have few to no pests and require NO pesticides to grow well. In fact, a safe, organic pesticide can be made from pawpaw seeds.)

"Culturally or historically linked
to a specific region, locality, ethnicity or traditional production practice" (Check: Pawpaws only grow in specific parts of the US. Including Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio.)

"Produced in limited quantities
, by farms or by small-scale processing companies" (Check: Pawpaws particularly short window of peak ripeness and rather soft, delicate fruit make it impossible to ship it thousands of miles.)

Armed with an amateur's knowledge of pawpaws, I decided to call Dave Reese at
Kaleidoscope Farms.

(Now I have extensive experience locating things outside of the formal economy. A few phone calls, some Internet networking, and miraculously, the universe responds to my wants and whims. For instance, I've found free chicken wire, whole fresh hogs heads, raw goat's milk, chicken feet, and pure-bred Border Collies, to name a few. Because of this, I'm used to calling up complete strangers and meeting them in remote locations. {Sometimes they have shotguns, as in the case of procuring the pig's head.}

Dave was generous and friendly, and I instantly knew I had a good connection for local pawpaws. He offered to get me a copy the Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association cookbook, entitled "The Edible Pawpaw, and I gladly took him up on the offer. We arranged for an evening to meet and go pawpaw picking on his gorgeous property, about 10 miles outside of Findlay.

If you want the whole account, click over to AMR's Everyday Palate.

Stay tuned. For Part Three: Pawpaw Adventure Faux Pas.


Anonymous said...

Well, I certainly had never heard of pawpaws before. I would love to try one though. Do they keep well? Where is the link to the Mountain Osyter recipe and write up? Mom

Anonymous said...

As a son of Dave's, I have to tell you that your delight in the farm truly makes him light up. As a child growing up getting to roam around in the "wilderness" was one of my favorite memories. I am truly happy that you enjoyed your experience and have had a great time reading about it. I cannot wait for round three!

-Jeff Reese