Called the “Indiana banana,” “custard apple” and other handles, the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) tree grows through the southeast and lower Midwest. Iowa is the northern edge of this mystery fruit’s range.
“They are found along the Mississippi River and southeast Iowa,” says Pat O’Malley, horticulturalist with Iowa State University Extension, who grows them in his Iowa City yard.
Finding them is challenging. They prefer filtered sun, protected slopes and moisture. Look within 100 yards of a railroad right of way in southern Iowa. “As they were building railroads, crews snacked on pawpaws from Missouri. They spit out the seeds,” he says.
Simply pick, peel and eat (always learn to identify wild foods from an expert forager first). Ripe when the fruit gives a little to pressure, usually early fall. Much like a peach, they’ll have a strong, fruity aroma.
“It’s a creamy, sweet taste; a cross between a melon and a banana,” says O’Malley. “The texture is sort of like a melon; softer flesh, though; a vanilla custard taste.”
Mark F. Sohn, of Pikeville, Ky., from Mountain Country Cooking, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1996
1 lb. very ripe pawpaws,
non-stick vegetable spray
1½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup white cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/3 cup 100 percent pure sweet sorghum
¼ cup oil
1 cup 2 percent milk
½ cup hickory nut or pecan pieces
½ cup raisins
Wash and peel pawpaws and press through a food mill. Measure out 1 cup of pulp. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray 18 medium muffin cups. Sprinkle a little cornmeal into each cup. In a large bowl, whisk flour, cornmeal and baking powder. Crack the egg into the dry mix, whisk until egg is well mixed. Add sorghum, oil and milk, stirring until almost mixed. Stir in nuts and raisins. With the nuts barely mixed in and the flour just incorporated, pour batter into the muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full.
Bake 17 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Muffins should be crusty on the top and brown on the bottom. Cool three minutes on a wire rack, then lift from the pan onto the wire rack to finish cooling.
From the Sept/Oct 2008 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine