How to tell if a pawpaw’s ripe. October 10, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
Tags: eating pawpaws, pawpaws, ripe pawpaws, what to do with ripe pawpaws, zebra swallowtails
Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have quite the little pawpaw grove here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. We planted three different varieties in the hope of getting a good crop (pawpaws need a second variety to cross-pollinate in order to set fruit), and last year, for the first time, we finally got some fruit. But before we could harvest them, the critters made off with them all.
This confused us, since the wily wildlife here at Hawk’s Haven usually strikes our berries and other fruiting plants the second they’re fully ripe, but not a second before. And these pawpaws were still green!
We’d become intrigued by pawpaws, a native fruit also known as “banana custard” because of its texture and flavor, when a friend brought us some ripe fruit from her trees a number of years ago. The big fruits are oblong and about the size of the small yellow mangoes you sometimes find alongside the large variety in the produce aisle. They have golden yellow flesh and large black seeds, which are easy to remove. Then you can scoop the flesh out and eat it as is, add it to muffins, cookies or bread (a la banana bread), or use it to flavor homemade ice cream.
The pawpaws Deb brought us had a noticeable yellow flush over the green skin, and we were waiting for our fruit to change color when it vanished. This year, we have a bumper crop of pawpaws, and OFB and I are eager to get a few for ourselves this time. But, once again, they’re still green. So you can imagine our shock when our friend Leslie stopped over and announced that our pawpaws were ripe and, in fact, she’d just eaten two of them!
“But Leslie, they’re still green!” I exclaimed.
“They’re definitely ripe, or at least the ones that have started to soften up are,” she responded. “They’re delicious! You’d better get out there and pick some.”
What the bleep was going on? I went online and Googled “when are pawpaws ripe.” Sure enough, it turns out that the skin of some pawpaw varieties will blush yellow when ripe, but others just stay green. Ways to tell if the green ones are ripe include checking for a slight give when pressed, like a ripe mango; putting your nose up against the fruit and seeing if you can detect a fragrance; and twisting the stem sideways to see if it detaches easily from the tree. Other folks just wait for the fruit to fall, then harvest it quickly before something else does.
Not that we begrudge our wildlife their share of pawpaws. The reason we grow them is that their leaves are the sole food of the caterpillars that become the gorgeous zebra swallowtail butterflies. We love butterflies, so we grow pawpaws for the zebra swallowtails and milkweeds for the monarch butterfly caterpillars. We just wish the critters would leave a few pawpaws for us to enjoy!
If it ever stops raining, we’ll be out there checking for ripe fruit. OFB and I will probably go for the scoop-and-eat method rather than making bread or ice cream. One final warning from the web: Apparently pawpaws can go from lusciously ripe to black-skinned and inedible within days. So once you pick them, eat them ASAP or scoop and freeze the flesh to use later.
‘Til next time,