You may be forgiven if you’ve never heard of North America’s largest edible fruit, which is the size of a mango and tastes a bit like a banana.
A native of the Ohio Valley, the fruit was a staple of the Native American diet and later cultivated by early Americans along the Eastern seaboard. George Washington liked chilled pawpaw as a dessert, Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello and Lewis and Clark survived off them when food ran low.
They were also popular during the Great Depression, when so many hungry Americans ate them that they became known as the “poor man’s banana.”
But the pawpaw fell out of favor during the 20th century, until plant geneticist Neal Peterson became obsessed with cultivating them commercially, starting his work on land owned by the University of Maryland. In recent years, the pawpaw has seen the start of a comeback as a delicacy sold at gourmet stores and farmers markets. The “poor man’s banana” has come full circle as the “hipster banana.”
Locally, you have a few options to try a pawpaw. You can look for it in the larger farmer’s markets in D.C., drive to a pawpaw orchard like Deep Run Farms, or join a group that forages for them in the wild, such as this one meeting on Sunday, Sept. 2.
You can search for them on foraging websites like Falling Fruit or places like the Washington Youth Garden at the National Arboretum, check out the Pawpaw Festival on Sept. 9 at the Meadowside Nature Center in Montgomery County, or find one at the Emerson Street Food Forest at 4515 Emerson St. in Hyattsville.
But wherever you find one, do yourself a favor and try a pawpaw this fall.