Dear Friends of the Berea College Farm,
Even though I’m a Kentucky native, I had never heard of paw paws (Asimina triloba) until my twenties when I was managing the produce department at Good Foods Co-op in Lexington. A customer came into the store and asked if we carried this indigenous, green-colored fruit and at first, I thought she was talking about what we called hedge apples (Maclura pomifera), also known as Osage orange or horse apples. Even after I learned what a paw paw actually was, I don’t know that I tasted one until I was hired at Berea College nearly a decade later.
These days, we eagerly watch the trees for the first fallen fruits and devour them most indelicately by slicing them in half, squeezing the banana-mango flavored custard into our mouths, and spitting the seeds out like a summer watermelon. For me, paw paws are the closest thing we have to a tropical fruit in Kentucky. Some even refer to the paw paw as the Kentucky banana, but they are not nearly as ubiquitous as their golden counterparts.
So why did it take so long for me to taste one? Folks that have experienced the paw paw know that its deliciousness is short-lived and shelf-life is nearly non-existent. This delicate fruit is only available for a couple weeks in the late summer/early fall and their thin-skin and soft fruit do not hold up to transport. As someone who likes her bananas slightly green, I get impatient waiting on the paw paw to reach that perfect stage of ripeness, the stage at which most bananas find themselves becoming bread or smoothies. In fact, the perfect paw paw might nearly be mistaken for rotten with its bruised skin and soft center. Picking them up off the ground typically results in better flavor than plucking them from the branches and if you’re going to shake the tree, you may want to wear a helmet since they can grow to the size and density of a russet potato. You can also just try your luck and pick some up at the Farm Store if we don’t keep selling out shortly after they hit the shelves.
Speaking of local flavors, don’t forget that the community-wide Celebrate the Harvest festival is coming up this Saturday, September 12th. This all-day event will give you a taste of the myriad ways you can bring a bit of local flavor into your life. Activities, tours, presentations, food and plant sales, and a community meal for just $10 (advance purchase required) will be happening at various locations throughout town including the Berea College Farm Store, Berea College Gardens & Greenhouse, Berea Farmers Market, Berea Urban Farm, and many more. Be sure to catch up on the activities here: www.bereacollegefarmstore.com/2015/08/31/celebrate-the-harvest-festival/
Until next time, eat well!
Jessa Turner – Manager