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Paw Paws, a Forgotten American Fruit, Become Popular Again

13 October, 2017

Have you ever heard of a paw paw?

If not, do not feel bad. Most Americans do not know of the fruit, although it is native to the United States.

Once, however, it was one of the most popular fruits in North America.

Happily, those who love the paw paw are trying to return it to its former position in American foods.

America's tropical fruit

A paw paw is a tropical-like fruit that grows on trees found all over the eastern United States. It's also the largest edible fruit native to the US.

It is similar to a typical mango in size. It has a dull green-colored skin, and a soft, almost-creamy orange inside.

Most people agree that the pawpaw tastes like a combination of a banana, an apricot and a mango. Most people are very surprised by its sweet taste.

At one time, it could be found as far west as Nebraska. It also grows along the East Coast from New York to Florida. The fruit has a very short harvest season, from two to three weeks in September and October.

A forgotten history

The paw paw was an important food for Native Americans and even early European settlers.

Paw paws reportedly were a favorite treat of George Washington, the first U.S. president, who especially liked them cold. Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president, was also a fan of the fruit. He planted paw paws at Monticello, his home in Virginia. He also sent paw paw seeds to his friends in France. American explorers Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals about the paw paw.

Today, paw paws remain popular in the Appalachian mountain area.

Not easily commercialized

The paw paw has never been sold commercially. The fruit requires a very special environment -- low, wet areas that sometimes flood.

In addition, the fruit is good to eat for only two to three days after harvesting. This makes it hard to sell anywhere distant from the paw paw tree it came from.

The paw paw, an American fruit found throughout eastern United States.
The paw paw, an American fruit found throughout eastern United States.

Making a comeback

Planters are again growing paw paw trees and harvesting the fruit. In several states farmers have organized "paw paw festivals" to reintroduce people to the food.

At such a festival in Maryland recently, farmers displayed different products made with paw paws. There were paw paw jams, pies, gelato, and beer.

Michael Judd helped organize the Maryland paw paw festival.

"It has that energy, and the people here today, there's an excitement, because they are trying something totally new but also exotic that grows here."

Farmers are trying to grow kinds of paw paw that will be easier to ship and sell commercially. Donna and Jim Davis are paw paw farmers in Westminster, Maryland. They told National Public Radio that they purchased their paw paw trees in the 1990s and now sell the fruit at farmers markets and online.

So, who knows? Maybe the paw paw will show up soon at a market near you.

I'm Phil Dierking.

Milena Gjorgjievska wrote this story for VOA News. Phil Dierking adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional materials. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Do you have any special fruits or vegetables that you can only find in your country? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

dull - adj. not bright

creamy - adj. smooth and soft

commercial - adj. related to or used in the buying and selling of goods and services

edible – adj. suitable or safe to eat