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Time To Pursue The Pawpaw, America's Fleeting Fall Fruit

Pawpaws may look like mangoes, but unlike other tropical fruits, they are native to North America. i

Pawpaws may look like mangoes, but unlike other tropical fruits, they are native to North America. Abby Verbosky for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Abby Verbosky for NPR
Pawpaws may look like mangoes, but unlike other tropical fruits, they are native to North America.

Pawpaws may look like mangoes, but unlike other tropical fruits, they are native to North America.

Abby Verbosky for NPR

If you've never tasted a pawpaw, now is the moment.

For just a few weeks every year in September and October, this native, mango-like fruit falls from trees, everywhere from Virginia to Kansas and many points westward. (We discovered them several years back along the banks of the Potomac River when we ran into some kayakers who were snacking on them.)

Remember the old folk tune "Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch"? In parts of the country, there's no food more local and traditional.

But you still won't find pawpaws in the supermarket. They're fragile, and they go from underripe to overripe very quickly, so they'd be a challenge for the fruit supply chain to manage.

Chris Chmiel is trying to change all that. He's the founder of Integration Acres, an actual pawpaw orchard near Athens, Ohio. Its motto? "Raising consciousness with cuisine."

Chmiel wants people to appreciate and consume this humble fruit. So he's promoting it at farmers markets and processing pawpaws into pulp that can be used in smoothies, baked goods and even beer.

A pawpaw ripe for the picking i

A pawpaw ripe for the picking Zac Visco for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Zac Visco for NPR
A pawpaw ripe for the picking

A pawpaw ripe for the picking

Zac Visco for NPR

He also helped organize the Ohio Pawpaw Festival, which happened Sept. 11-13. It celebrated this fruit with everything from pawpaw-infused beer to baked goods.

Last year, we sat down with Chmiel to talk about why he's devoted his life to promoting the pawpaw.

A version of this story was first published on Sept. 5, 2014.

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