Friday, November 13, 2009

The Pawpaw: A forgotten fruit native to New York

In the height of fall, the Cornell Orchards store on Route 366 offers a stunning variety of apples, some familiar, others unusual, some centuries old, others newly bred.  Other goodies are also available, like cider, grapes, pears, squash, maple syrup, and jams.

But off to the side, a small pile of oblong fruits fill a basket.  The sign reads: "Pawpaws $2/lb."

The homely pawpaw fruits are light green, with some large brown splotches.  You can cut them in half, remove the seeds (about the size of lima beans), and scoop out the custardy flesh.  They smell and taste quite tropical, often described as a mix of banana, guava, and pineapple.  They grow on small trees with big broad leaves.

Although their taste and look is reminiscent of the tropics, pawpaws are native to North America, including New York State.  

The pawpaws in the Cornell Orchards Store are from an experiment that Ian Merwin, Cornell Professor of Horticulture, started in 1999.  On the Cornell research farm in Lansing, near Cayuga Lake, 332 trees of 28 different varieties grow.  "We are evaluating all the general aspects of this native but little studied fruit species: survival, yield, growth, fruit attributes, pollination ecology, etc," he says.

After a decade of research, Merwin says the biggest surprise is how well the pawpaws grow here.  "[They] have done better here than in many other regions of the US that were thought to be more in its comfort zone," he says.


  1. I just saw a website offering pawpaws for $14 per pound! Looks like we got a deal here...

  2. Scooping the pulp out of the skins after removing the seeds was too slow a method for me. I used a vegetable peeler to peel them, and then pushed the pulp through a large-holed collander. Kinda messy, but faster than the hunt-for-the-seeds and then scoop out method.

  3. That sounds like a good method, Krys.

    Also, another way to describe the taste is persimmon-like :)

  4. I got some of the paw-paws at Greenstar out of curiosity. I wasn't sure what to do with them so I peeled it and ate it, pulling the seeds out as I went. In my opinion, it didn't taste much like a tropical fruit at all. I would love to know what you can do with paw-paws besides eating the flesh raw.

  5. I didn't know Greenstar had them-- good to know. The first couple I tasted were really flavorful, and then I had one that hardly tasted like anything -- so I think taste can vary a lot based on ripeness and variety. I've read online that some people wait until they are almost completely brown before eating. I imagine they would be a lot more flavorful then.

    I've also read that some people use them as a substitute for bananas in baking -- like banana bread. This Kentucky State website has a few recipes for pies, custards, cookies, cakes, and ice cream. Also, throwing them in smoothies or mashed with yogurt are other possibilities.