18th Annual Pawpaw Fest Kicks Off Sept. 16

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Community bonding, education on sustainability, interesting food, local vendors and live music have always been a big part of the Ohio Pawpaw Festival, taking place this year on the banks of Lake Snowden Sept. 16 through Sept. 18. Earlier this year National Geographic Traveler named the yearly event the best food festival in the state of Ohio.

Related to over 2,100 tropical fruits, the humble pawpaw is not only the largest edible fruit that grows in North America (excluding gourds, which are typically classified as vegetables from a culinary standpoint,) it has also been Ohio’s state fruit since 2009.

“Pawpaws actually taste very tropical when they are ripe,” said Chris Chmiel, one of the festival’s founders and main organizers. “It’s very important for people to know that they shouldn’t eat under ripe pawpaws. If a pawpaw is hard as a rock and you eat it, it can actually make you very sick.”

Pawpaws nestled in their natural environment. (
Pawpaws nestled in their natural environment. (

The reason for this? Pawpaws actually contain a startlingly high concentration of toxic annonaceous acetogenins, powerful compounds that have been utilized for cancer treatment. Under ripe pawpaws have a very high concentration of these and therefore should not be consumed.

“When they ripen, they’re soft and develop a very fruity smell, that’s when you want to eat them,” said Chmiel. “These fruits do not last long, they have a short shelf life and they go from being rock hard to rotten in a couple of days. That’s one of the real challenges with pawpaws.”

This year the fly serves as the main logo for the event.

“Flies gross people out sometimes, but we felt we needed to educate people about what they mean for pawpaws,” said Chmiel, who said that the insects serve as one of the main pollinators of the fruit. “Orchardists actually bring roadkill out near their pawpaws to attract flies.”

Flies and roadkill tie in playfully to a newly added event for this year’s festival: the Pawpaw Olympics, which will have participants taking part in some fun, yet skill-testing “roadkill chucking” competition. Not to worry, though, the “roadkill” will actually be various plush animals.

Chmiel said that this year the pawpaw crop hasn’t been as good as it has been in years past, largely thanks to a frost that took place in April, taking with it many healthy pawpaw flowers.

However, that shouldn’t do anything to diminish the general pawpaw related fun at this year’s festival.

“We actually have ten Ohio microbreweries bringing in different types of pawpaw beer this year,” said Chmiel, noting that each of the many food vendors that will set up shop at the festival is serving up some type of pawpaw dish.

Rusted Root will perform at the Pawpaw Festival next weekend. (Adam Ezra, Nathan Ekis Photography)
Rusted Root will perform at the Pawpaw Festival next weekend. (Adam Ezra, Nathan Ekis Photography)

Some of the other exciting events on the docket for this year’s event include a brand new four mile run around Lake Snowden, an attempt by Ohio University’s Campus Recycling to construct the world’s largest cardboard fort, the renewable energy regatta on Saturday, a juried art exhibition, a pawpaw eating contest, a pawpaw cook off and the competition for the “best pawpaw.”

Nashville-renowned and Akron-born musician Tim Easton will be playing at the festival, as well as beloved ‘90s hippie rockers Rusted Root.

“I started this festival about 18 years ago with some folks in Albany, and it’s really turned into a unique community event,” said Chmiel. “It’s very family friendly, and it’s also the largest and longest running pawpaw festival.”

For more information on the festival and for a complete schedule of events, visit the event’s website and Facebook page.