Way Down Yonder in the Papaw Patch
I love markets and when I am traveling, I often find myself being drawn to gourmet shops, food markets or farm stands. London is remarkable, Paris is legendary, Venice is on the canal and Northern California has no equal. But as Dorothy stated while she clicked her ruby heels, ‘There is no place like home.” And when I opened my eyes, I found myself just outside of Philadelphia visiting our friends.
The Dixon’s settled on the Main Line after traveling around the world for a year. It is a short train ride on the Keystone Rail Road leaving Grand Central in NYC. Our visit meant our families would have some time together talking, bonding and cooking up a feast – after all we had to test drive the new kitchen and well, cooking is in our blood. Vincent, Ainlay and I gathered up our girls and their son and set off to the Bryn Mawr Farmers Market early Saturday morning
The market is pristine – where else can you find carefully made and exceptionally delicious Pumpkin Pie Hummus? This is a foodies market – cooks who cook and farmers who farm. Smart people who eat and live well. Organic produce was at its peak. Tomatoes and corn, peaches being bought up by the bushel box for home canning. Responsibly reared grass fed lamb, pork and beef with handmade sausage punctuating the offerings. Chickens & eggs are displayed alongside potatoes as big as baby’s heads and as tiny as a penny. All perfect in their own right.
In the back of this Pennsylvania market was a fruit I had never seen or tasted in my life. As a child I had sung the praises of this fruit in a nursery school song that had stuck in my head for a good portion of my years. It went something like this “scooping up papaws and put them in the basket.’ In reality, I have never tasted or even seen a Papaw.
The farmer told me it was one of two fruits native to the US and that we could, “Scoop the pulp and eat the same food as Pocahontas.” That statement went a long way with our three daughters all under the age of 10. Actually, its not true, but it is the largest Native American Fruit in North America.
Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello and it is documented that Lewis and Clark ate papaws on their expedition west. In fact Merriwether Lewis’s recorded this passage in his journal on September 15, 1806 , “We landed one time only to let the men gather Pawpaws or the custard apple of which this country abounds, and the men are very fond of.”
Well they certainly don’t look like much – but Lewis was wise to make the stop, the chartreuse colored fruit reminds me of something tropical – mango, papaya with a hint of banana. The fruit has three times as much vitamin C as an apple, twice as much riboflavin & niacin as an orange, and about the same potassium as a banana. High in magnesium, iron, manganese and copper, it’s a good way to imbibe protein – papaws contain all essential amino acids. In fact food researchers consider papaws a super food.
“When its soft it’s ready”, I couldn’t argue with the farmer who had grown papaws all his long life I made a fuss and purchased just all the fruit he had left. His grandson who worked the stand thought I was nuts. I probably am – but just a little.
When we ate the papaws there were mixed reviews. The texture is soft a bit like a mango – I could easily see papaw sorbet, smoothies or dare I say preserves. The color ranges from a chartreuse to a pale persimmon. It could be used in place of apple sauce alongside potato pancakes or with a roast. But honestly that farmer was right – it is best just scooped out of the skin and eaten fresh from the market. A seasonal treat that our three daughter’s thoroughly enjoyed.