Katie Smith reporting for Scott County.
Pickin’ up paw paws,
Put ‘em in your pocket
Way down yonder in the paw paw patch
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to sneak out for the day with a couple of our retired friends from the Northwest, and was very excited (and proud!) to show them the Twin Arches hike down to Charit Creek Lodge. Along the trail my friend, who spent the early part of her career in the Southeast, asked me if we had pawpaw trees in the Big South Fork. “Paw-what?” I responded. I started asking locals in Scott County and discovered some very interesting information about this elusive fruit.
Asimina triloba, also known as paw paw, paw-paw, or common pawpaw plant is a fruit-bearing tree found in eastern North America, from New York west to Nebraska and south to Florida. Pawpaw fruit is considered a local delicacy for its aromatic, nutritious and tasty fruit. With a pudding texture, the pawpaw is sometimes described as a mango-banana type fruit, but is most closely related to the custard apple. It can be eaten raw or made into pies, jams or custards.
Although delicious, pawpaw fruit is difficult to harvest, and not because it’s uncommon in the area. On the contrary, it grows all over the Big South Fork (and probably other secret locations outside of the park). The trick to harvesting the pawpaw is to get to the fruit first! Hungry bear, raccoon, possum, fox, squirrel and coyote gobble up the dessert often before their human counterparts arrive.
If you are lucky enough to find ripe, uneaten fruit, you are welcome to harvest it from the ground or from trees within the park, but transplanting trees found in the park is illegal. However, the sheer black oblong seeds can be replanted and cultivated in a specific environment. They grow best in low elevations with well-drained soil that is not wet but moist, such as near a creek. Because the pawpaw requires such a specific environment for cultivation and its fruit, which must ripen on the tree, is too soft to transport over long distances, it is impossible to cultivate this plant on a commercial level.
Interested in picking some of this wild delicacy? The pawpaw tree can be found in the Big South Fork NRRA, but its oval leaves are often confused with the cucumber magnolia. If the darkly colored, pungent flowers or fruit aren’t present, the easiest way to correctly identify a pawpaw is to rub the leaf gently between your fingers. A pawpaw will release an aroma that some describe as asphalt or crude oil. Thankfully the fruit tastes more like a mango or banana.
For the few weeks in the fall when it is ripe, the most popular locations in the park to harvest pawpaw are Station Camp Creek, No Business Creek, in historic Rugby by the Clear Fork, Charit Creek and near Jake’s Place. Please remember to leave no trace in our beautiful protected park.
When you have your peck of pawpaw, here are some of the numerous pawpaw recipes online. And don’t forget to share with the author! http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/pawpaw/recipes.htm
For more information and pictures, here are some interesting websites:
A huge thanks to Howard Duncan and Marie Tackett from BSF NRRA for sharing their pawpaw knowledge.