Whether you call them pawpaws, Hillbilly mangoes, Quaker Delights, or Hoosier bananas, this is the American-grown fruit you should know about.
If you’ve never tried a pawpaw fruit, you may want to look in your backyard before you head to the store. Pawpaws are indigenous to 26 states in the United States – they grow from northern Florida all the way to Canada, and as far west as eastern Nebraska. There was a time when this fruit nourished Native Americans and settlers, which probably explains the fruit's folksy nicknames like hillbilly mangoes, Quaker Delights, or Hoosier bananas.
What are Pawpaws?
Pawpaw fruit is unlike anything you’ve ever tried – it has flavor notes of banana, mango, pear, and melon. The flesh is soft and has the mouthfeel of custard – some even say it tastes similar to banana pudding. But great taste isn't all that this obscure fruit has to offer – a serving of pawpaw boasts high levels of B-6, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, iron, and phosphorus.
Pawpaw is best eaten during peak season – from August to September. For the best pawpaws, look for unblemished, green fruits with the softness of a ripe peach. There's just one catch – pawpaw is pretty hard to come by. You could try getting lucky at your local farmer's market or specialty produce store, but your best bet is growing your own pawpaw tree.
Southern Living’s “Grumpy Gardener” Steve Bender says that the fruit isn’t very popular for two reasons: “First, its thin skin bruises easily, making it difficult to ship. Second, ripe fruits rot within a couple of days unless you freeze them.”
How to Use PawPaw Fruit
Enjoy the fruit as-is by removing the skin and sucking out the juicy flesh – just be careful to avoid the brown seeds. If you want to experiment with pawpaws, you can puree the flesh and make pawpaw butter or fruit leather – it can also be added to smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods, cocktails, or slathered on toast with a drizzle of honey.