Pawpaw Road Trippin’, Part 1: Pittsburgh to Jacksonville, Atlanta, and points in between

I’ve just come home from a week on the road talking pawpaws and promoting my new book Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit. The trip took me to Bland, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Beckley, West Virginia.  

In Jacksonville, Florida, I was hosted by my friends at Urban Folk Farm, and welcomed by members of Permaculture Jacksonville. I met wonderful people doing interesting things related to organic and sustainable agriculture, food access, food education, and modern homesteading. It was a privilege to speak about pawpaws, which, in this corner of Northeast Florida, are quite rare.

One of the attendees shared a story about a man harvesting several pounds of pawpaws from a wild patch growing along a river near Gainesville, Florida. Now, according to the USDA–and according to my research and own experiences–Asimina triloba is unlikely to be found this far south. But maybe the USDA missed this patch. Unfortunately, the story ends here. So if any of you readers has information on the mysterious Gainesville/Alachua County patch, do get in touch!

The next morning I took a hike around the perimeter of Urban Folk Farm (which borders a conservation easement), hopeful that I might find one of the endemic Asimina species growing in the woods. And my naive optimism was rewarded! Just beyond the barbed wire was a pair of Asimina shrubs, pictured below.
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An endemic Asimina species in NE Florida (or is it a False Pawpaw? If any readers can identify this species, let me know).

After Jacksonville, I continued south to my hometown, Lake Wales, Florida, to visit with my family. My mom has also caught the pawpaw bug, and is experimenting with growing Asimina triloba well south of its native range. So far, they appear to be thriving. Central Florida has had heavy rains this summer, and one of the pawpaws is showing incredible growth, pictured below (pardon the poor quality–I took this picture on a steamy morning and my lens fogged up… I couldn’t wait for a better shot, had to make good time to Atlanta!)

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Asimina triloba with vigorous growth far south of its native range.

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Asimina triloba in Polk County, Florida.

Let’s call Polk County the Asimina, or even Annonaceae, crossroads. Pictured below is a seedling cherimoya, a native to tropical South America, growing in a container. This will either need to be carted into the green house, or covered with cloth, during one of the county’s rarer frosty evenings.

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In Atlanta, I was welcomed by not only the friendly folks of Trees Atlanta, but also my first ripe pawpaw of the season. For those of you acquainted with pawpaws, you know this aroma. And for those of you who are on the far end of the obsession spectrum, you know this was an exciting moment.

The talk in Atlanta was actually a panel discussion, hosted by Robby Astrove, a fruit tree-naturalist-forager-education specialist-multi-talented all-around good guy (www.fruitforwardorchards.com). Also on the panel was NAFEX member Robert Hamilton, known in Atlanta as “the fruit man” due to his extensive knowledge of unusual fruit trees–both horticulturally and culinarily; and Cindy Mayer, a coordinator for the Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Certification program at The Atlanta Audubon Society. The pawpaw, not only of value to us humans, is food for several mammals, and is the only larval host of the zebra swallowtail butterfly. It was an honor to be included in this dynamic, engaging panel.

After the discussion, we pawpaw people gathered in the parking lot to split the single ripe pawpaw about a half dozen ways. It was savored, and delicious.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, I visited a good friend, hiked around one of the city’s historic neighborhoods, and visited the recently relocated Three Rivers Market, Knoxville’s community food co-op. Perhaps pawpaws will soon be on the shelves here. After all, it was here in Knoxville, at the annual Biscuit Festival, that a pawpaw pecan biscuit, with a whiskey sorghum caramel topping, was a runner-up for the people’s choice award. Downtown, I spoke with a bookseller who remembered eating pawpaws on his grandfather’s East Tennessee farm. Such anecdotes are a reminder that this neglected fruit has a rich history–and a living story–all over this country.

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Click here to purchase Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit.

Advance praise for Pawpaw…

Advance praise for Pawpaw:

This book is a love song, singing the praises of a unique, delicious, and once-abundant fruit that has been sadly neglected. Andrew Moore takes us on a very personal journey investigating how and why North America’s largest indigenous fruit largely disappeared, and documenting efforts to revive it. Pawpaw is a pleasure to read, and if you do you’ll probably find yourself searching for and loving these delectable fruits.

Sandor Ellix Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation 

“With Pawpaw, Andrew Moore walks firmly in the steps of the great literary journalists John McPhee and Mark Kurlansky. Stories deftly told, research deeply done, this book is an engaging ride through the haunts of a fruit many Easterners quietly—secretly, even—gorge themselves on each autumn. A ripe pawpaw is as illicit as Persephone’s pomegranate, and Moore captures that passion well.”

Hank Shaw, 2013 James Beard Award winner, Best Food Blog, and author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast and Duck Duck Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese

“Here is proof that culinary odysseys don’t always need to involve globetrotting or the pursuit of rare, exotic foodstuffs. But, then again, in his pursuit of the lowly American pawpaw, Andrew Moore reminds us that America was once considered an exotic destiny on its own, and has always had more than its fair share of culinary rarities.”—Damon Lee Fowler, author of Essentials of Southern Cooking and Beans, Greens, & Sweet Georgia Peaches

“Tropical growers have many shade crops to choose from, like cacao and coffee. Here in eastern North America we have our own luscious fruit for shady places―the pawpaw. Andrew Moore’s Pawpaw tells the story of this fruit and the people working to bring it to our gardens, markets, and restaurants. It’s the story of an eastern native fruit on its way to domestication, finally earning the place in our hearts and our cuisine that it deserves.”—Eric Toensmeier, author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables

“Andrew Moore has done an amazing job demystifying one of America’s most misunderstood and neglected fruits. Pawpaw deftly navigates between his own personal journey and the facts and history of the fruit, leaving readers―including chefs interested in heritage and tradition―with a true sense of how important it is to embrace this indigenous treasure.”—Travis Milton, chef and co-owner of Shovel and Pick, Richmond, Virginia

“This book took me on an enchanting and engaging ride through the history, folklore, and science of a neglected but magical food plant. Andrew Moore shows us, in delightful prose and a wealth of fascinating stories, the role that the under-appreciated pawpaw has played in North American culture. I was constantly surprised to learn of the quiet influence the pawpaw has had on the people and environment around it, and like the author, am hopeful that it can find its rightful place among the better-known fruits that we all love.”—Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden and The Permaculture City

“Like a gumshoe detective, Andrew Moore tracks down a mystery at once horticultural and culinary: Why is the pawpaw, America’s largest indigenous fruit, so little known? The answer, like the fruit’s beguiling taste, proves multi-layered and slippery, and after reading Moore’s engaging account, I’m ready to light out for pawpaw country myself in search of this homegrown original.”—Langdon Cook, author of The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America

“America, get ready for pawpaw mania! Andrew Moore’s book tells the definitive story of the wild fruit that is part of our nation’s heritage, and in the process the author joins the ranks of food-preservationist heroes. Prepare to be overwhelmed with longing for the sweet scent and taste of the pawpaw.”—Poppy Tooker, host of Louisiana Eats!

Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit is a fun and well-researched, informative romp through the culture and horticulture of this uncommon fruit. Uncommon, yes, but who would have imagined that there were and are quite a few other pawpaw nuts out there? If you don’t know pawpaws, you should, and you will.”—Lee Reich, PhD, author of Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden

“I was fortunate to have experienced early in life, from my Monacan Indian and Black community friends, the joy of the pawpaw, as well as maypops, chinquapins, mushrooms, and huckleberries. Andy’s book is one of the road maps to the resurrection of another rooted American food commodity. Pawpaw will generate enthusiasm for this unsung fruit and hopefully engender passion in a few.”—Tom Burford, author of Apples of North America: Exceptional Varieties for Growers, Gardeners, and Cooks

Pawpaw Tasting Event, September 19th, 2013 7:30 p.m.

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[Please note, this event occurred in 2013 and is not a current event]

Pawpaw Tasting Event!

Thursday, September 19th, taste the largest, edible fruit native to the United Sates: pawpaw! There will be lots of fresh pawpaw fruit, pawpaw ice-cream, pawpaw-filled cupcakes, pawpaw seeds for the taking, and a raffle for two, two-year-old pawpaw trees. $40. Limited to 15 guests.

The event is a fundraiser for my travels on the pawpaw trail, hunting wild fruit, and collecting the stories of pawpaw growers and eaters across the Eastern U.S.

The event will be held at 1501 Buena Vista Street (Buena Vista Coffee), Pittsburgh, PA, 15212. 7:30 p.m.

Pawpaws on the Mississippi

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.

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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.

https://twitter.com/thepawpawbook
http://www.flickr.com/photos/91811565@N05/
http://www.thepawpawbook.wordpress.com

Pawpaw Tasting Event! Get your tickets!

Pawpaw Tasting Event!

Thursday, September 19th, taste the largest, edible fruit native to the United Sates: pawpaw!  There will be lots of fresh pawpaw fruit, pawpaw ice-cream, pawpaw-filled cupcakes, pawpaw seeds for the taking, and a raffle for two, two-year-old pawpaw trees.  $40.  Limited to 15 guests. 

The event is a fundraiser for my travels on the pawpaw trail, hunting wild fruit, and collecting the stories of pawpaw growers and eaters across the Eastern U.S.

The event will be held at 1501 Buena Vista Street (Buena Vista Coffee), Pittsburgh, PA, 15212.  7:30 p.m.

For tickets text/call 407-967-3519, or e-mail andymoore44@gmail.com