Editor's note: Sara Bir, a.k.a. the Sausagetarian, is the consummate authority on pawpaws. Not sure what they are or what to do with them? Read on! She's bringing us a guest post, and some photos, too.
Though they’ve been growing in North America for some 56 million years, pawpaws are having a bit of a moment. Unfamiliar to most yet beloved by some, this fascinating fruit grows wild in deciduous forests from southeast Canada to northern Florida, and from the Atlantic states to the eastern fringes of the Great Plains.
This year has seen the arrival of three exciting pawpaw-related publications: Andy Moore’s Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, Darrin Nordahl’s Eating Appalachia: Rediscovering Regional American Flavors, and my own pawpaw zine, The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook. The acclaimed Michigan specialty foods company Zingerman’s markets a pawpaw gelato, and microbreweries such as Jackie O’s in Athens, Ohio have embraced the pawpaw’s potential as an ingredient in complex, aromatic beers. This year, the three-day Ohio Pawpaw Festival anticipates its highest attendance ever.
Why all the fuss over what is, quite frankly, a homely and perplexing fruit? Anyone who’s fallen in love with pawpaws at first bite can tell you easily. The alluringly sophisticated flavor of a pawpaw is bewitching: it can offer notes of mango, banana, citrus, caramel, custard, or honey, and its flesh is highly aromatic. Nothing else in the world smells like a pawpaw.
The interest in pawpaws reflects the larger trend of familiarizing ourselves with indigenous, seasonal foods—not only for reasons of sustainability and heritage, but also for culinary potential. That’s what hooked me on pawpaws. I grew up in a small town in southeast Ohio, and I never once heard of a pawpaw until I’d lived on the West Coast for over a decade. Upon moving back to my hometown three years ago, I took to the woods and found them lousy with pawpaw trees. I loved gathering pawpaws, which are ripe right at that bittersweet junction of summer and fall.
And as a chef, I love experimenting with them in my kitchen. They are truly unlike any other fruit you can encounter. Pawpaws defied my expectations. Coming up with recipes that highlighted their abundant positive qualities was challenging. I like challenges.
I’ve gathered my findings in The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook where I share a dozen surefire pawpaw hits. Not that there are only a dozen recipes for pawpaws that are worth making—The Pocket Pawpaw Cookcook (you can order it) is intended to inspire you, whether it means spending more time in wild spaces, reconnecting with forgotten foodways, or improvising in the kitchen. Here’s one of my favorites.
This is an old-fashioned baked pudding, not as creamy as a custard but smooth and rich, with intriguing caramel notes and an undeniable pawpaw kick.
With a food processor, it takes only minutes to blitz that batter together. (Note: minutes blitzing together batter excludes gathering of pawpaws. It’s taken me up to 40 minutes to find and haul home ten pounds. Call it your exercise for the day.)
- 2/3 cup (3.1 ounces ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2/3 to ¾ cup granulated sugar (I prefer a less-sweet pudding)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 cup pawpaw pulp
- ½ cup buttermilk, preferably not low-fat
- ¼ cup half-and-half
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Heat the oven to 350˚ F and position a rack in the middle. Grease a 9 by 9-inch baking dish, preferably glass or ceramic.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda to combine.
In a large glass measuring cup or medium bowl, combine the pawpaw, buttermilk, half-and-half, and vanilla bean paste. With the machine running, add the pawpaw-buttermilk mixture through the feed tube. Turn off the machine, scrape down the sides, and add the melted butter with the machine running. Your batter should have the consistency of pancake batter.
Pour the batter into the greased dish. Bake until the center is set but still jiggly (like a pumpkin pie), about 30 to 45 minutes. The sides of the pudding will rise up and brown, while the interior will be flat, shiny, and amber-colored. Let cool to room temperature and serve with crème fraiche or whipped cream. I like this for breakfast with a big dollop of Greek yogurt, but I could say that about most any dessert.
The pudding will keep 2-3 days at room temperature. I suppose you could refrigerate it, but it tastes better at room temperature.
-From The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook by Sara Bir, Copyright 2015 Sara Bir/The Sausagetarian
A graduate of The Culinary Institute of American, Sara Bir is the food editor for Paste Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Best Food Writing 2014, Saveur, Lucky Peach, The Oregonian, and other publications. Her website is www.sausagetarian.com.