NELSON COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) – Perhaps you’ve never heard of it which means you likely haven’t tried it, but this North American fruit is making a comeback.
It’s called a Pawpaw. It’s a sweet, creamy tropical fruit that was once a common staple for Native Americans and colonial settlers in Virginia. It’s even been rumored to be a favorite of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson which they planted and cultivated at Mount Vernon and Monticello. The pawpaw was first documented in 1540 by a Portuguese explorer who noticed Native Americans eating the fruit.
The pawpaw looks similar to a mango. It’s flesh is a custard-like texture that is not only sweet and delicious to eat as is, but it’s also a common ingredient in things like jams and jellies, pies, tarts, smoothies and ice cream.
Despite the pawpaw’s popularity back then, the fruit had drifted into obscurity – until recently. Popularity of the largest edible fruit native to North America has increased. Pawpaws grow in approximately 26 states, mainly in the eastern part of the country.
George Dean, a farmer in Nelson County, grows it and tells WFXR he’s struggling to not only get a hold of seedlings, but also keeping pace with demand.
He says you will likely only find pawpaws at a farmer’s market, for a few reasons: they’re only ripe from the end of August through part of September, they’ve got a short shelf life, they have to be picked off the ground, and can take five to six years to grow from a seedling.
“Well, that’s why we’re almost out of pawpaws right now because people just love them,” he said.
Dean grows countless mainstays like plums and kiwis at Edible Landscaping, but says the uniqueness of the pawpaw – a relatively unknown fruit until about 10 years ago – has made it a new favorite.
“And people that walk up here and say ‘what’s a pawpaw?’ I can take them over and have them try one and they have to have a couple and take them home and plant them and tell their friends about them. So they’ve just gained this ‘tag you’re it’ popularity,” he said.
Dean says Edible Landscaping cross-breeds for things like bigger fruit and smaller seeds, but the pawpaw itself is nothing new.
“Like you had a plum, some cherries, pawpaws, and persimmons. They were basically the ‘big four’ tree fruits that grew here on the east coast before the Europeans brought the other fruits over,” he said.
He says – whether in bread, muffins, ice cream, or by itself – the pawpaw’s flavor speaks for itself.
“So it’s got this custardy, banana mango-ey flavor to it, that’s the best I can describe it. It’s wonderful,” he said.
Dean tells WFXR pawpaws are mostly grown on a small scale and go for about five bucks a pound.