When foraging, it is important to always keep one eyes and nose open.
It can be hard to see fruiting blackberries in July. At that point everything is green and lush and overgrown. Ripe berries can “melt” in the background as you zoom by. But when the blackberries are in bloom, their dog rose-like blossoms just jump at you. Their pure white seems to flutter like butterflies over the surrounding spring green. It is impossible not to notice. That how I mark new blackberry patches: I make note of them when in bloom and come back later when they are berrying.
Ditto with pawpaws, a native fruit that grows by streams and in bottom-land and prefer the edge of the woods. I have written about harvesting and using pawpaws. But in September they can be hard to pick out. In late April or early May (that is, now!), when they are blooming, the groves are very easy to spot.
The drooping maroon flowers are festooning the slim limbs of the trees this year. In the 6 or 7 years that I have been foraging for pawpaws, it’s the first time I recall seeing so many blooms. Their shape and colors are unique and easily identifiable – once you know what you are looking at – especially since the pawpaw is the only tree that has not yet leafed out nor budded. Many flowers will drop off f course, but we may expect a heavy harvest this year.
I am making notes of trees I had not noticed before and plan to visit in the fall.
A small consolation given how meager the morels have been!
Pawpaw, peeled and cleaned of seeds: a most delicious no-cook custard
My favorite banana custard involves no cooking whatsoever. No, it doesn’t involve opening a package of store-bought “custard” either. In fact, it requires a stroll along the creek with my nose up in late summer: I am looking for native wild pawpaws (Asimina triloba) that are ripening now and in early fall, sometimes as late as October – depending on the tree and its location. They aren’t showy, but they are easy to recognize: small understory trees with large vaguely-tropical-looking drooping leaves that turn a bright pure yellow in mid-fall. They grow mostly along bottomland creeks, forming ever expanding thickets, often at the edge of the woods. Read more
In season now: pawpaws – ripening along the creeks
a creamy luscious fruit redolent of mango, guava and banana…
Should you go walking along a bottomland stream in Rappahannock County, you are likely to encounter pawpaws (or paw-paws or paw paws). You may not notice them though – unless you paid attention – because they are small under story trees that grow in clumps. Nothing majestic about a pawpaw tree! Blooming in April or early May, the pawpaw hangs its maroon bell-shaped flowers on bare branches. Its fairly large drooping leaves are vaguely tropical looking. Its fruit is decidedly exotic looking – a reminder that the pawpaws’ cousins are tropical denizens (think Custard Apples or Cherimoya). However, the plant (Asimina triloba) is firmly native to our area, the Northern Piedmont and, more broadly to eastern North America; it is the only larval host of the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly – another sign, if you see lots of Zebra swallowtails in summer , to look for trees in the vicinity. The fruit ripen in September – and you do have to look for them! The wild trees are typically shy fruiters (its flowers fertilized by carrion flies). The fruit hang down toward the branch tips, singly or in small clusters, looking like small, vaguely kidney-shape, mangoes – somewhat difficult to spot.
We just went checking on the ones I had noticed earlier in the summer. Still there – for now. I picked a few that seemed softer than most, but after tasting one, I’ll wait to pick more. The flesh is creamy, and when ripe, reminiscent of bananas, mangoes, guava – or cherimoya. No surprise that some of its common names are Hoosier banana, prairie banana, Kentucky bananas, Ozark banana etc. I’ll wait until there is more black showing and the fruit is softer before picking more (if raccoons or other creatures don’t beat me to it): just like real banana, I like my Hoosier banana ripe! The ones I picked will continue to ripen inside – again just like bananas.
How do you eat them? With a spoon…