Monday, September 10, 2012

Get Yer Pawpaws!

Now's the time to lace up the hiking shoes and venture out into your nearby woods for one of the eastern deciduous forest's most delicious treats!  The tropical-like Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is wide-spread and quite common throughout Ohio and the eastern half of the country, south of the Great Lakes.  They can be found in just about any mesic woodland, large or small.  Their tell-tale extra large, fan-like leaves portray a junglish (yes, I made that word up) appearance and make for a quick ID.  Each fall mature trees bear small clusters of the delicious fruits that are a hot commodity among the other local wildlife; including humans!

Some fist-sized, ripened pawpaws (Asimina triloba) 

Despite a hot and extremely dry summer and fall that has seen a lot of crops and fruit production fail and shrivel in the heat, it seems the pawpaw's are having a bumper crop year.  More trees in more areas are packed with fruit in greater numbers and size than I've seen before in recent memory.   One rarely sees any on the ground since woodland critters are quick to snatch them up as a tasty seasonal meal but a particular spot I visited this past weekend had hundreds on the ground waiting for consumption.

If you've never had a pawpaw before then you're truly missing out; just imagine a custardy-banana flavor and texture.  You want to catch them at their prime ripened stage, which looks like the photograph above, when the skin starts to show a small scattering of black markings and have a nice 'squish' to them.  Just as Kramer says of the avocado on Seinfeld;  "you want them soft, but not too soft".  Just be sure to spit the large, easily noticed seeds out and not ingest them.  They aren't overly dangerous to consume but are best avoided.

The particular pawpaw grove I visited in the southwestern corner of the state had some of the largest trees of the species I've ever laid eyes on.  Many of the dozens of specimens were 8-10" in diameter and  40+ feet tall.  That may not sound like much for a tree but if you know pawpaws and their generally small size, you know those are monster trees!  The surrounding old, rich limestone mesic woods of black walnut, blue ash, white ash, hackberry, kentucky coffee tree, chinkapin oak, and basswood had many other trees of impressive proportions to see throughout.  An added bonus was the healthy presence of the federally endangered running buffalo clover (Trifolium stoloniferum) scattered around the more open spaces and areas in the understory.  It allowed for an accurate and rare look at the ecological structure and species composition of the pre-settlement forests of the inner bluegrass region of Kentucky and Ohio.

With all that being said be sure to search out and enjoy some of this seasonal delights as they won't be around for long.  Once ripe they quickly fall and are devoured.  Best of luck and don't eat TOO many in one sitting as they are known to be a natural laxative in large quantities ;)

Also check out the 14th annual Pawpaw Festival outside Athens this coming weekend!

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