Are you ready for a vacation to the tropics, but can’t afford to travel right now? With a trip to your local farmers market, you can savor tropical flavors without ever leaving the state. Even though pawpaws (Asimina triloba) are grown in Missouri, they have a large fruit and tropical-like flavors of banana, mango, and pineapple. Unripe pawpaws are hard and have a green peel color. As they ripen, the peel turns yellowish and the fruit becomes very soft and aromatic. Fruit must be handled with care to prevent bruising. In fact, you have to enjoy fresh pawpaws quickly as they are highly perishable. If picked before fully ripe, pawpaws can be kept in refrigeration for about three weeks and will ripen at room temperature. However, pawpaws will maintain quality for only two days at room temperature when the fruit is ripe. To preserve pawpaws for later use, remove the peel and seeds, puree the flesh, and store it in the freezer. Many dessert recipes can be found at: http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/pawpaw/recipes.htm.
If you decide to grow your own pawpaws, choose a planting site with a slightly acidic (pH 5.5 to 7.0) soil that is well-drained as trees do not survive heavy soils that become easily waterlogged. Trees require shade for the first year, but grow best in full sun thereafter. Pawpaw grown from seed is difficult to germinate and seedling growth is slow. These trees usually do not bear fruit until five to eight years after seeding. However, several superior cultivars are available as grafted trees from nurseries and can bear fruit in three years. Two different cultivars are needed to ensure crosspollination and fruit set. Some of the commonly available cultivars include ‘Sunflower’, ‘Shenandoah’, ‘Overleese’, ‘PA-Golden’, ‘Wells’, and ‘NC-1’. Plant trees eight feet apart and water them during dry periods throughout the growing season. The addition of fertilizer in a circle about six inches away from the base of the trunk will aid in tree establishment. Irrigate after fertilization if rainfall does not occur within 24 hours after application. Pests may include Japanese beetles, which feed on foliage and the pawpaw peduncle borer, which burrows into the flower and causes them to drop. Leaf and fruit spot (Phyllosticta) can also infect pawpaws, but with the removal of surface lesions on the peel, fruit can still be consumed. Young trees should be protected from deer, which cause bark damage by rubbing their antlers on tree trunks.
If you don’t have your own trees, but crave a taste of the tropics, purchase some pawpaws at your local farm market while they last!
REVISED: September 29, 2015