Pawpaw – Largest Native Tree Fruit

pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-1This October, the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) grove has continued to produce heavy yields, many more than we can eat. By we, I mean me and the possums. Bob is not a fan  – these people do exist! Since the possums are usually more attentive gardeners than I am (after all, they are up all night), I try to survey the ripe ones, often fallen, every evening before the possums arrive for their nightly feast. But I often “forget” in the interest of starving possums and keeping the kitchen paw paw piles at a reasonable level. pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-3

I love to eat them fresh, which means within 2-4 days, but do freeze some for winter smoothies. Their flesh is generous, thick, creamy, and incomparable to any other fruit, not too sweet, but certainly not tart or sour, but rich with flavors indescribable but akin to butterscotch, bananna, and mango – though deeper and more profound. They freeze well, and keep frozen till the next harvest, but their taste is changed from the fresh experience. These are tough but delicate trees after all, going all the way back to the fossil era, when there were no freezers – they just don’t understand the concept. But I still force them into the modern age, and freeze them to make up smoothies with pineapple, papaya, and vanilla as companions. The base can be milk, nut milk, or a citrus juice. Or anything else you may come up with. pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-2

For many more recipes, attend the Pawpaw Festival in Albany, Ohio, where I intend to go next year, September 15-17 (2017).  Find out more at Ohiopawpawfest.com. I’m hoping to come back with many recipes, such as perhaps a pawpaw salsa, which sounds intriguing. And maybe, pawpaw’s unique flavor could make some exquisite pairings with rare spices and Chinese tonic herbs – ashwagandha? There seems to be much to explore with this forgotten but rising fruit. Also available on the net is The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook by Sarah Bir, with 12 recipes, such as pawpaw gelato, pawpaw cornbread, and pawpaw pudding, which she says tastes like pumpkin pie. Interesting! Her website is Sausagetarian.com. And she has an article on pawpaws at Pastemagazine.com titled:  “5 Ways to Get Your Pawpaws On This Season“.

If you happen to be a nutrition nut like I am, you may be interested to know that pawpaw fruits are very nutritious, being especially high in potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, phosphorus, iron, and niacin. These values are substantially higher than our most common fruits:  banana, apple, and orange. Their amino acid profile is mostly higher also. See Pawpaw.kysu.edu. For fiber, a very small pawpaw (3.5 oz.) has 2.6 grams of fiber or 10% of your daily requirement.

Even more than nutrition, the pawpaw tree has medicinal properties. The leaves, bark, and twigs are used to treat cancer, one of the most difficult tasks for any plant. They contain compounds called acetogenins which modulate the production of ATP in the mitochondria, the energy producer of the cell and which also regulates cell division. Pawpaw twigs also enhance digestive health and help eliminate parasites. The fruits contain papain, which helps with digestion, may improve skin, and supports healthy blood sugar levels. The twigs should be harvested when “biologically active”, which would be in May, just before the tree leafs out. Pawpaws are late to leaf out, putting out flowers first, so there would be no spring rush. Since I just discovered twig benefits in my latest research, I definitely plan to harvest some next spring. I plan to try a twig tea as a pesticide spray on my apple trees as well. For more information and stories relating cancer cures, see herbs77.com. For more on the research on acetogenins, see pawpawresearch.com.

If  you are thinking of growing pawpaw trees, I have found that they love the heat and humidity of the Midwest and Michigan, where I live at about latitude 43, which could be their northern most range (before global warming!).They are also hardy to zone 5 and -25 degrees. They have taproots, which seem to protect them from drought, once they are a few years old, and bring up deep nutrients. Probably because of their perfect adaptability, I have experienced no pest or disease problems in my 20 or so years of growing them. Mine are at the edge of the woods, yet in the sun, in a lower area relative to the rest of our acre, but not in wet soil. I haven’t fertilized them either except for some Azomite minerals ocassionally. They are pollinated by flies and beetles – I haven’t noticed the beetles, but I never thought I would be glad to see flies. Mine are located along a deer path – and we have rabbits, but neither are the least interested! These trees are by far my favorite fruit producer. So easy, so beautiful with their tropical leaves, and so nutritious!  pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-4

PS My varieties are Taylor and Sunflower (which I can’t tell apart) and have formed producing groves. RaintreeNursery.com has 8 or 9 varieties for sale.

 

 

My Inscrutible Grape Vines

grapes-2Last winter my husband suggested I should prune the grapes. We have two Swenson Red variety vines. He may as well have suggested I hike across the Sahara Desert. I just started to sweat. Because plants can be intimidating, like a tennis partner who is much much better. In fact, I can only say, like Gaël Monfils at the US Open Tennis Tournamengrapes-1t, when he stopped to tie his shoe in the middle of a point, “I get lost”. If you’ve ever seen an unpruned grape vine, you would agree. However, our laisez-faire approach has produced actual grapes, so much so that we felt compelled to purchase a juicer, so as not to waste them.

I may be ahead in this game, but the grapes may win the match, since pruning may be required to save the yard and house. (I’ve seen what untamed plants can do.) However, I’ve been training for an event like this, by deadheading phlox and other sporting activities. Because plants are like tennis partners, constantly hitting back balls I have to run down, making gardening an endurance sport. Plants only look stationary – they are very active even without visible movement – ask any gardener – when you turn around, they always look different. People may move, but at least they still look the same. (I guess friends would be shocked if I “matured in 60 days”.)

But I will continue to run down flying grapes and other startling occurences resembling plant tennis. And if I ever really learn to prune grapes, I will hastily and happily write it all down.

Fig in the House

_MG_5391

I love figs and have had a Chicago Hardy fig for the last 5 years, gradually potting up to an 18 inch diameter root pruning pot from Rootmaker.com, called the Root Trapper Grounder. I would manage to move it outdoors every spring, but last year noticed that it never seemed to adjust to the sunlight and wind. Its large smooth leaves continually wilted and look sun scorched even in part shade and with plentiful water. So this year, I decided to leave it in the basement since it seemed happy and content with its light from the windows and flourescent lights. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been harvesting _MG_5392a few figs every day – a gradual ripening which suits me perfectly. This  harvest is better than my outdoor harvest. They also like our well water, which is high in calcium and magnesium. Rain water seems not to be their cup of tea. No one talks about acid rain anymore, as if the problem is totally solved; but I suspect it is not. Judging from the sulking and harsh words from my goji berries (they need alkaline soil), it is still acidic.

I plan to keep it in this pot, so I may root prune it this winter as the Royal Horticultural Society (rhs.org.uk) suggests. Their roots like cramped quarters they say, but even figs need root pruning “every 3-5 years”. I’ll take a photo of my first large scale plant surgery when I get up the nerve.

 

Pawpaw buds

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.

Still There, Leeks

Leeks on display

When all of our snow melted, thanks to several days of warm rain, I noticed the small bed of leeks was still there.  Not quite the way they were, tall and perfect, still carrying memories of growth and fearlessness, but now bent and remembering snow.

I thought I’d dig some up to see how the edible underground white part looked and lay them out in a simple arrangement to make up for the winter they had just been through. The subterranean roots looked fresh and white and crisp, suitable for a potato leek soup or any other leek recipe. There is an unusual Leek “Noodles” with Creme Fraiche and Hazelnut Oil recipe on the Splendid Table site I think  I’ll try. Only the hazelnut oil sounds hard to find.

I am always amazed at the ability of leeks to survive our winters. With only a straw mulch and our usual snow cover, they always emerge victorious in spring. Maybe it’s because leeks are one of the world’s most ancient vegetables. A 4,000 year old Babylonian tablet suggests using crushed leeks in a stew. Their strong life force also provides them with healing qualities. The mucilage they contain provides a soothing coating for the throat, helpful for public speaking. It’s also a Welsh emblem from the sixteenth century  and was highly regarded enough to be considered a cure for the common cold, a protection against wounds in battle, a means of foretelling the future, a protection from evil spirits – oh, and an ingredient in broth. And what better than a leek under a marriagable woman’s pillow to provide an apparition of her future husband? I say why not? Maybe there are few limits to what a leek can do.

I think I’ll go out and dig the rest of those leeks…..

                 Constancy

              Though it be broken-
                 broken again - its still there:
                     the moon on the water.

                    Choshu

Survival of the Onions

This a sampling of our onions and shallots which have been stored together in a small bushel basket all winter. The only place available to store them was on our basement cement floor which is at least a little cool. Most survived very well , onions being a very practical vegetable, dazzling only with taste and storability. I tried dangling one with green shoots in a glass vase, but it insisted on being practical only. It remained a green stalk, never destined for a spectacular flower, only interested in producing more seed in its down to earth way.

Of the three kinds I grew, only the flattened cipollini type called Gold Coin didn’t make it to March, going soft already in January. The two varieties which did endure were New York Early from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Rossa Di Milano from Seeds of Change. Both of these are non-hybrid and are listed as hard storage onions. They are especially to be congratulated since my storage conditions are so far from the ideal near freezing and 65-70% humidity that is recommended. Our conditions are closer to 60 degrees and 50% humidity.

But the blue ribbon for storage goes to the Matador hybrid shallots that I grew from seed, from Cook’s Garden (online store only for some reason). They are still perfectly hard and crisp – not one has gone soft or put out a shoot . They are the ones in the photo with no green shoots. At this rate, I expect another month or two of storage, but I now have room to put the rest in the refrigerator to improve their life extension. This leads me to my plan of growing more shallots this year – I’ll plant more Matador and add Johnny’s Ambition hybrid with red skin – which should be a colorful addition. If you have ever checked out the price per pound of shallots, especially organic, you will want to try growing and storing them. At my health store, they are over six dollars per pound! I also bought seeds for the onion Ailsa Craig Exhibition which is only for short term storage. Its virtue is that it is supposed to be sweet for fresh eating. And I love fresh onion on everything from salsa to salad to roll ups.

Onions may not be glamorous, but I could never leave them out of the garden…..

My Curious Shrine

In the winter I am prone to pondering conundrums such as:  is it better to be curious or reverent toward nature? This perplexity came about after I happened upon an old dark brown cabinet at a local thrift shop. It was in dire need of sanding, painting, and other repair wizardry – where my husband gracefully steps in. But it was the perfect cabinet of curiosity for our kitchen. Since our kitchen was in desperate need of displaying the curious, I stepped up to the counter with my forty bucks. Soon I had plenty of time to ponder the curious as I plied sandpaper and brush.

Wintertime in Michigan  is very cold and it is sometimes only a little less so in our kitchen. Growing things such as sprouts, fermenting drinks like rejuvelac, or making the delicate crème fraiche , had proven impossible. Even ripening bananas was taking far too long. When recipe writers suggest “room temperature” they overlook my winter kitchen of 60-65 degrees. To  have a warm cabinet to hold such curiosities while they grew and fermented seemed ideal. Indonesian tempeh requires 88 degrees for its 24 hours of incubation – now another possibility. For in winter I still crave the absolute – freshly harvested crops of the tiny, the curious, the super quick growers:  sprouts, microbes, and fungi (rizopus oligosporus for tempeh).

Of course the old European cabinets of curiosity were much more –  well curious – tending toward the macabre. They featured the dead rather than the living:  butterflies pinned to fabric, skeletons of fish, frogs in jars. But they showed imagination and a fascination with life, even if their life was made inaccessible, near and distant at the same time.

One of my favorite life forms is the buckwheat sprout. It is what I pile into a bowl every morning along with shredded coconut, nuts, raisins, hemp seeds, and sometimes cacao nibs. With this “new” cabinet, outfitted with a 200 watt light bulb turning on and off, maintaining a 75-80 degree temperature, I can grow them to edible size in a day and a half, just like in high summer. And it seems the quick optimum growth makes them sweeter.

buckwheat cereal

Other objects also find this cabinet home:  more classic objects of curiosity such as a Japanese viewing stone or suiseki I found many years ago. But the Japanese created shrines for their objects rather than cabinets. Their Shinto shrines housed yorishiros  – objects which can attract kami or spirit –  such as stone. To them, all nature was charged with spiritual power, and special forms were used as heightened links to this higher nature.

This cabinet appears to be a hybrid, but I really prefer to select out the best from the ancient seed of Shinto animism, and create life.

            A Shinto Shrine

          A shrine:  here, keeping
            Far from the garden lights,
              Float wild birds, sleeping.

                              --Shiki