Pawpaw is the largest, edible fruit Native to the United States. It is frequently found growing along rivers and streams in 26 Eastern states (from North Florida to Ontario Canada, from the Atlantic to Nebraska). I am writing a history of pawpaw, and a travelogue of the places it grows, and the people who grow them. I have traveled to meet scientists, farmers, foragers and brewers, from West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, to Maryland, Alabama, and Louisiana.
But in my mind, no story of America’s largest, greatest fruit–especially considering the pawpaw as a river denizen–would be complete without a trip to America’s largest, greatest river.
Enter Quapaw. I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d access The River (as I’d later learn to refer to the Mississippi). And then I read a magazine article about Quapaw Canoes. And on http://www.island63.com, I read a description of a certain tour on the Lower Mississippi River that included pawpaws and palmettos. I knew then that if I was to see the Mississippi River according to my vision (a vision which included an open mind), Quapaw Canoes would help me get there, perhaps even share my vision.
If pawpaw is America’s most unknown, unsung fruit, I learned that the Mississippi, though notorious in American minds, might also be equally unknown, and certainly unsung. I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful The River is, how wild and open its waterfront and bluffs are. But for all its beauty, and the adventures it could afford, River and I were the only paddlers out that day. Much like the pawpaw, it was just out there, repeating the ancient cycles of nature, waiting to be discovered.
Mark River was an invaluable guide and an eager companion. During our time paddling and hiking–and in the evening, just watching the river go by–included a good deal of me talking and teaching about pawpaws, and an equal amount of River teaching me about the Mississippi, and its surrounding country (a landscape that The River helps shape, and is ever changing). I had many questions, Mark had many answers. Mark kept saying that the River teaches, the River has answers. But so did Mark, and the spirit of Quapaw–it was infectious and energizing.
We found pawpaws. There was no guarantee that we would, but thanks to John’s direction, my foraging experience, and Mark’s expert navigation, everything came together. It had been a cool summer, so the pawpaws were slow to ripe. But the trees were generous enough to give us a handful of ripe, sweet fruit. We were given all we needed.
Andrew Moore has been working on the pawpaw book for the past year-and-a-half, but has been a fervent pawpaw enthusiast for the past three. He lives and works in Pittsburgh, PA. He was raised in Polk County, Florida, just below the pawpaw’s native range.
Follow his travels on Twitter, Flicker, and on his blog.