One of the most beautiful and unusual flower buds in our yard is the pawpaw. They resemble a plush furry button – and fur on plants always makes me smile. Pawpaws are also called “Michigan bananas” and there is a city in Michigan named Paw Paw – given all this I assumed they would grow here. I also took more advice from my dog eared copy of Lee Reich’s Uncommon Fruits Worthy Of Attention. I noticed that Mr. Reich has a newer book out now called Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, but I haven’t seen it. For some reason, perhaps because many of these uncommon fruits have not been bred (for characteristics I probably wouldn’t like), they tend to need little spraying for insects or disease. That is certainly a welcome feature of our our trees.
Since I love bananas, paw paws were probably the first trees I sought out for the yard. There happened to be a grower specializing in them in our general vicinity in the early 90’s named Corwin Davis. I remember making the pilgrimage to his home one spring day and meeting quite an elderly man – someone who dedicated much of his time to his small pawpaw nursery. I came home with 2 varieties called Sunflower and Taylor and a sheet of information.
Our trees have thrived since then, setting fruit most years – most because mid Lower Michigan is at its northern most range. I love these trees because they ease boredom by giving our lower ravine a tropical look with long unusual leaves – most unexpected. And since the dropped seeds encased in the fruit are quick to germinate, we now have the classic pawpaw patch, which, if I am not vigilant from now on, could grow larger, larger, and larger.
The small trees (around 15-20 feet tall) are undemanding and if I fertilize at all, I throw them some alfalfa meal, like a zoo animal — plus they don’t need much water after they put down their long tap root. I once tried to dig one up to move it to a better location, but after heroic digging, could not find the end of the tap root, nor could I pull it out (I was getting desperate). After decisively losing the match – my first (and only) loss to smallish plant ever! – the tree stayed put and now produces a great many pawpaws.
Pawpaws are harvested at the end of the season, after a light frost or two. Then I scoop out the flesh, sometimes leaving in the large seeds (to remove later) and put them in the freezer. My varieties have a flavor a little like a banana, but more assertive – of course. These trees have a position , a point of view, and personality! I find they blend well with some real banana to remind them of their roots and bring them back to a familiar taste. They usually end up in a smoothie, but recipes do abound. There is a pawpaw foundation at Kentucky State University which has all sorts of lore and information to keep one occupied for some time. But for now, I have a “Scattered Frost” looming for tonight. My occupation could be The Compleat Worrier because it is now dark and the low was just revised downward.