If it wasn't for human migration, Canada would have precious few fruit trees. No apple, no peach, no pear. One native species we would have is the pawpaw. Long overshadowed by pretty much every other fruit, it’s high time for a comeback.
The northern banana, or is it a mango?
The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) kind of looks like a green mango. It’s got that same leathery skin and soft flesh that will give a little when you squeeze a ripe specimen, but it tastes like a banana.
The flavour is excellent—like a banana mixed with jack fruit.
Full disclosure: I’m not a huge fan of eating pawpaws raw, but many people LOVE it. I think it’s a texture thing for me. If it’s frozen, I’m all in. The flesh takes on an ice cream-like consistency. Room temperature, no thanks, too goopy.
When you cut into a pawpaw fruit you’ll find a series of large, dark brown seeds. These are inedible and should be scooped out and set aside (and then planted).
Pawpaws grow on a very pretty, small tree that looks like it belongs in the tropics. It’s a classic member of the understory since it doesn’t like to be out in direct sunlight as it establishes itself. We’ve set up a little microclimate for our pawpaws because they prefer life a little south of us (we’re zone 5a) and keep the seedlings shaded for about two years.
Pawpaw reproduction mostly happens through suckering and the trees will end up creating thickets if left to their own devices.
The pawpaw seems hell bent on taking an alternate route. It’s considered to be an “evolutionary anachronism,” meaning its evolutionary partner i.e. the animal that would eat it and poop out its seeds, is extinct. Some humongous mammal from the Pleistocene era would have helped it expand its territory and start new plants by passing the seed through its digestive system and depositing it somewhere else along its travels. Could it have been a giant cave bear? Or a woolly rhinoceros?
Even now, the pawpaw relies on alternative pollination to bees. Instead, the flowers have a faint scent of rotting meat that attracts carrion flies and beetles, who then do the pollinating. Luckily, people don’t notice the smell and can focus instead on the otherworldly maroon blooms.
The pawpaw’s natural range spans most of the Eastern United States and into Canada via Southern Ontario.