The Pawpaw: The All-American Fruit the Country Forgot
Truly all-American foods are hard to find—hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie, for example, all have foreign origins. But that doesn’t mean native foods don’t exist. Take the pawpaw: This fruit is so American that it was enjoyed by the founding fathers, but it’s also an item most U.S. residents have probably never heard of.
As Vox explains in the video below, pawpaw fruit trees were once abundant in the eastern half of the country. Indigenous people ate the flesh of the fruit and saved the seeds for medicinal purposes. Early presidents also enjoyed them: George Washington had pawpaw trees planted at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson had the seeds delivered to friends in France.
But the past few centuries haven’t been kind to the pawpaw. Commercial development has wiped out much of the pawpaw belt—a chunk of land stretching from Michigan to Florida. At the same time, the rise of supermarkets helped push the fruit into obscurity. It ripens so fast that it would become inedible in the time it takes to pick them, transport them, and place them on the shelf.
While you won’t find pawpaws at chain grocery stores, they’re still available if you know where to look. Even after years of deforestation, pawpaw trees are the most common edible fruit trees native to North America. You can seek them out at Midwestern and eastern farmers markets from late August through September. And what to do with the custardy fruit once you’ve found it? Try using it to make pie, pudding, and even ice cream.