What the heck is pawpaw? And what the heck was it doing at the Union Square Greenmarket?
At Wednesday's market, I saw the expected apples and winter squash, all looking lovely. But at one table I saw something really unexpected.
Pawpaw and kiwi berries at a farm stand!
As you can see from the close-up below, pawpaw is a fruit with creamy flesh and big shiny seeds.
You can't see, so you'll have to take my word for it, that this aforementioned creamy flesh is really sweet and luscious. This makes sense when you realize that pawpaw is part of the same family as guanabana and cherimoya, creamy tropical fruits that typically show up in New York only in "ethnic" neighborhoods with large immigrant communities. Chinatown, for example.
What was wild to me was that a fruit I would have described as tropical was grown locally - in New Paltz, New York, north of New York City. What was wild was the pawpaw itself! It's native to the New York, and grows in a wide swath of the US, as far west as Nebraska and as far south as northern Florida.
The pawpaw's fruit looks like a small under-ripe mango. A newspaper article with the appealing headline, "Don't Pooh-pooh the Pawpaw," notes that pawpaw has a long history in the US, first as a Native American staple. Pawpaw fans included George Washington and hungry foragers over the centuries. Of course, bringing wild "free" fruit to the commercial marketplace isn't cheap. Pawpaws ripen quickly and move quickly to a stinky fermented state.
The particular farmer who was selling the pawpaws is a horticulturalist and gardening author named Lee Reich. He was selling an interesting looking book called Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, which promised to "offer delectable rewards to the gardener willing to go only slightly off the beaten path at local nurseries" for fruits such as maypop and shipova.
He attracted a small crowd by offering samples of pawpaw and kiwi berries, a tiny kiwi variety also known as "grape kiwis." (I'm still waiting for samples of the maypop and shipova.) Unlike regular kiwi fruit, which have fuzzy skin the color of brown paper bags, kiwi berries have smooth, edible, green skin. They look a bit like quanepas, a fruit I'm assuming is still off-limits for New York gardens, but maybe Lee should confirm this.
Kiwi berries are quite a bit sweeter than regular green kiwi fruits, more like yellow kiwis than green in taste. I've purchased grape kiwis in Brighton Beach a couple of times, but those were already packaged and imported from somewhere else, I think New Zealand. I had no idea that kiwis in any variety could be grown north of New York.
While I was at the stand another gentleman came by to chat with Lee about their shared interest in growing wild persimmon in their metropolitan NYC gardens. Take that, commercial agriculture!
I asked Lee where folks who were interested in growing these exotic fruits should go for more information, and he mentioned his book and Kentucky State University's land grant program.