Have you ever noticed how everything old suddenly becomes new again?
I used to think I was part of the cutting edge back in my teen years. Black clothing, black nail polish, black hats, black elbow-length gloves – I dressed and looked like a professional mourner. And my music? Alternative British all the way, baby. I was the anti-thesis of mainstream, doing my damnedest to stick out like a black cloud in a pastel shaded sky.
Guess what? According to my daughter, that “alternative” edgy music is trendy today. All the kids know the words to songs by the Cure and Depeche Mode.
Sigh – so much for being an original.
As life goes, so too does the fruit and vegetable industry. Case in point – the pawpaw. The what? The pawpaw, a large shrub or small tree that is native to the mid-eastern area of North America from southern Ontario to northern Florida and from New York to Nebraska. It’s typically found in the understory of established forests and likes well-drained, fertile soil. Its fruit is a large yellowish-green “berry” up to six inches long and three inches wide containing large dark brown or black seeds. The fruit matures in September/October with a soft, custard-like flesh and, according to the Toronto Star’s gardening columnist Sonia Day, tastes like a cross between banana and mango.
Day recently penned an article about the forgotten tree, considered the largest edible fruit indigenous to the U.S. and southern Ontario. She highlighted a project in Essex County aimed at raising awareness of the fruit, Project Pawpaw, being operated through the Naturalized Habitat Network of Essex County and Windsor. A quick visit to the organization’s website [naturalizedhabitat.org] shows they offer pawpaw grower training seminars, “a 2.5 hour training session designed for those who are interested in growing the native Pawpaw tree as a sustainable food crop.”
They also sell a pawpaw grower’s manual.
Since researching the fruit – a favourite of George Washington when served chilled – I’ve discovered everyone is jumping on the pawpaw bandwagon. The topic has proved so popular, Day penned a second article about the plant describing the feedback she received from pawpaw enthusiasts growing it in their backyards. Articles about pawpaw have also been printed in Michigan and West Virginia as people rediscover “America’s forgotten fruit.” Commercial production is also being tried in Ohio and Kentucky.
Does pawpaw have the potential to become the next big thing in the local food movement?
Possibly. But there will be some big hurdles to overcome before reaching any kind of meaningful production level. The plant is a habitually difficult pollinator, resulting in poor fruiting. Cross-pollination of at least two different genetic varieties is recommended and many growers hand pollinate or use attractants [fish emulsion, raw meat] to convince pollinators to visit the plant’s flowers. The fruit is also difficult to store, fermenting not long after being picked. Only frozen fruit seems to ship or store well.
And is commercial production the way to progress with pawpaw?
We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds for this interesting fruit.
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