CINCINNATI (TDB) -- With Ohio's annual pawpaw fest just around the corner, a push is once again afoot to officially declare this plump homegrown cousin of the papaya the state's native fruit. A bill has been filed by State Rep. Jimmy Stewart, an Albany Republican whose 92nd Ohio House District encompasses the heart of pawpaw country. The September festival is in the Appalachian village near Athens that he calls home.
Earlier this year, the pawpaw almost won the designation its supporters have coveted. By the bill died in the Ohio Senate after clearing the House in the final days of the 106th General Assembly. Pawpaws, Asimina triloba, are large green fruits that grow deep in North American forests. They were popular with Native Americans. European pioneers picked up where the Indians left off and made pawpaws into pies and preserves, and they were said to have medicinal properties. The fruit is described as having a tropical taste. But it fell out of favor and now is an obscurity that can't be found on typical grocery store produce shelves.
The pawpaw foundation says:
"Found most commonly near creek banks and river bottoms in the understory of rich broadleaf forests of the eastern United States, the pawpaw is a small decidious trree whose large, droopy leaves and slender brances give it a decidedly tropical appearance. The resemblance is more than coincidental; the pawpaw is the only temperate member of the Custard Apple family, which is widespread throughout the New and Old World tropics and contains many Central/South American fruits now popular in the tropics and subtropics; the guanbana, cherimoya, sugar apple, and atemoya. For people who are familiar with the annonas (as they are collectively known), the pawpaw bears a notable similarity in sweetness, aroma, consistency, flavor and seeds."
Kentucky State University has a program devoted to restoring the pawpaw as a commercial crop and the school is cultivating orchards. A six-minute long video has a lot of information, including a song at the opening that is the best part of the show.
Ohio's new Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, grew up in rural Appalachia and spent most of his life in the hill country. Over the years, he may have run into pawpaws and tasted the fruit. So far, there's no word on whether he supports Rep. Stewart's bill. But here's hoping the pawpaw gets its due.