It Takes A Village To Save Our Heirlooms
There they are – the seeds to my foodshed’s indigenous tropical fruit. And if you live in the Midwest, they are your heritage too – the pawpaw.
It seems like there is an undercurrent of growing awareness this fall about this funky fruit. They made the cover of Edible Michiana; our heirloom food maven, Lee Greene of The Scrumptious Pantry has leaked news that she’s got a pawpaw curd recipe in development that will be coming to store shelves soon; and I’ve seen people saying on Facebook, “Where do I get pawpaws?”
The answer of course is that you go out in the woods and pick them up.
Or, if you don’t happen to live near a pawpaw grove, your second option is to pick them up at a farmers market. Thing is, they are very tender and lack eye appeal, so even our dear farmers are not all that into hauling them to market. Thankfully, Oriana the “Asian pear lady”, is dedicated enough to have them at her Saturday table at the Green City Market, so that’s where I got my first-ever pawpaws. Sure, I’ve been in a forest with pawpaw trees when I visited Spence Farm, but unfortunately, that was June. And I got my first taste of them thanks to my buddy Lee Greene who slipped me a test jar of her amazing curd recently. But I hadn’t yet tasted one fresh, straight from their brown and bruised-looking jackets.
I noticed one vendor at the market who had picked one up from Oriana was just squeezing the tasty pulp out through a hole in the top, sort of like a Midwest Push-Up. At home though, I sliced them in half like you do a mango and scooped out the soft, yellow pulpy flesh with a spoon – and it is delicious! Banana meets mango meets built-in custard.
For me though, one of the most remarkable things about the pawpaw is this: When I bought these from Oriana, she urged me, commanded me nearly, to save the seeds. “They are more valuable than the fruit itself,” she said. And that is because she wants me to plant them. She wants this native, heirloom fruit to survive, to continue to be a part of our region’s food culture and part of our environment. She wants this to the extent that she’s asking a city-living person like me to rinse the seeds with a little vinegar to knock off any mold and store them with damp sphagnum moss in a Ziploc until spring. Then plant them, in a pot if I have to. You’ve got 2-3 years to figure out where to transplant them, she reasons. Just save them! Save the pawpaw trees!
I’ve been working to be more attuned to things that grow. The garden was bursting with sorrel so I made soup. It was bursting with chard, so I fermented the stems. It burst late summer with tomatoes and you don’t have to tell me twice to “eat tomatoes”! So when Oriana tells me to save pawpaw seeds, well, you know.
I have no idea where, but I’ll plant them somewhere this spring. If your yard or woods needs a few pawpaw transplants (or you just want the seeds themselves) let me know! This is your chance to be part of the village that is saving an heirloom!
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For more info on the paw paw, check this story from The LocalBeet.