Also known as the Hoosier Banana, the American Pawpaw (Asimina triloba.) is the largest edible fruit indigenous to the United States. Furthermore, it is the only member of its family to not live in the tropics.
Asimina triloba trees are native to 25 states throughout the southeastern and midwestern parts of the US. The Native Americans are credited with spreading the Pawpaw from the mid atlantic region, up and down the eastern seaboard. Reaching as far north as Canada, south to Florida, and west towards the Ozarks. Today, through genetic engineering, strains and cultivars can now be found throughout the United States and into Canada.
The evergreen, known to some as the wild banana, is primarily an understory tree. However, it sets better fruit in full sun, needing sun protection the first few years. It has big green oval leaves which can be reminiscent of a Magnolia. Instead of large white flowers however, the Pawpaw produces small pink flowers, which, when pollinated, become clusters of small oblong and slightly curved fruit. No wonder it is also known as both the Kentucky, and Arkansas Banana.
It resembles the size of a good potato, the shape of a dwarf banana, and is soft and thin skinned, like that of a ripe mango, or baked potato.
The fruit is a relative of the custard apple family, Annonaceae, and is often associated with other tropical fruits such as the mango and papaya. Neither are related, though the resemblances remain. Pawpaw, or ‘Banango’ as it has been called, is said to have a creamy custard type texture and tasting like a mixture of Banana, and Mango. Some have even mentioned a hint of cantaloupe or pineapple.
The tree often fails to set fruit, being attributed to a lack of pollinators. Its fragrance is neither strong, nor attractive to bees (or humans), and if grown as a fruiting tree, hand pollination should be considered. When the tree does set fruit, however, it usually begins to ripen near Labor Day, lasting into the first weeks of October. It is said to have the taste of the tropics.
The American Pawpaw is said to have been a favorite of Former President George Washington, especially chilled, to near frozen. It may have been an early form of ice cream. The poor man’s banana played a part in at least 2 wars, The revolution and the civil war, where soldiers would often stop for a treat, or even plan a specific route to take them near a known Pawpaw patch. Lewis and Clark made notes regarding the fruit, and how it often sustained them during their expeditions. Another president, Thomas Jefferson grew them on his Monticello plantation.
The American Pawpaw has numerous uses. The seeds, which resemble lima beans in size and shape, bark and leaves all contain a natural pesticide, which ironically, can also cause an allergic response (rash) in some people. The fruit is highly nutritious, and may well be the next superfood. Acerogenins, found in the twigs, are being used in the development of anti-cancer drugs.
One problem with the Pawpaw as a commercial food source, is that it goes from ripe to rotten within a matter of days. Colleges and universities around the world are now working to improve this wonder food, which has more vitamins, minerals, amino acids and food energy value than peaches, grapes, or apples. In fact, much of this information was obtained from research conducted by Kentucky State and Perdue Universities
Pawpaws can be substituted in any recipe where bananas are used, and add a nice tropical flavor. Excellent in smoothies, ice cream, pastries, jams, jellies and baked goods. Take a few moments to Google a Pawpaw festival nearby, and plan a trip this fall to taste the many treats that can be made using the Pawpaw fruit.
Of course, tasting this little beauty may very well lead to planting. Pawpaws make a wonderful addition to any edible landscape, and are cold hardy to Zone 5.