Pawpaw Festival Honors Resilient Fruit

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Due to the nearly 30,000 year existence of pawpaws, Appalachians consider the fruit a well-known staple in their culture.  

Rhonda O’Nail, a woman raised in the region, recalls the fruit as part of her daily life.

“Pawpaw trees grew everywhere, they were like apples. You went into your backyard, you picked pawpaw and you ate them.”

It takes about seven years before a tree produces fruit.

Mason Chambers, owner of Five Springs Farm Landscaping and Nursery in Athens said it is a long process. “Pawpaws are a tough tree to grow because you never know if the seed you collect is actually going to germinate or survive the winter, so you have a lot of mortality.”

Chambers says that if a plant survives the first year, success in growing the fruit is very likely. The tree needs moist but well-drained soil and sun to produce more fruit.

“Pawpaws are more adaptable than what people give them credit for,” said Ron Powell, President of the Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association. “They have a very short shelf-life, so most of our production is oriented towards processing the fruit and freezing the pulp. Once we freeze the pulp, we can keep it for year-round use.”

More than 80 varieties of pawpaw exist and each variety has a different taste, size and texture.

Pawpaws can be eaten raw or used as an ingredient in many recipes, including pawpaw bread, ice cream and beer.

Nutrient rich, the fruit contains protein, potassium and vitamin C. In addition, pawpaws are used as a medicinal plant. The extract can be found in various cancer treatments, and it is also utilized as a pesticide.