Celebrating the Tropical, Topical Pawpaw | Ontario Culinary
loader image

Celebrating the Tropical, Topical Pawpaw

It’s apple season! It’s pumpkin season! It’s…pawpaw season?

One of Ontario’s little known autumnal delicacies got its due last month at the Slow Food Toronto Pawpaw Tasting (or the “Pawpaw Pawp Up” as it was affectionately referred to by attendees).

The evening included an engaging presentation on the ethnobotany (the study of how humans relate to plants) of the fruit by Ionatan Waisgluss, followed by some expert gardening advice from Slow Food’s Paul DeCampo, before wrapping up a with a parade of pawpaws for guests to taste.

From Ionatan’s talk, attendees learned that Aboriginals were the first to come into contact with the pawpaw, and they wasted no time putting their new discovery to use. Pawpaw tree bark was used for clothing, the fruit itself was smashed and made into pawpaw jerky (imagine finding that at your nearest convenience store!) and the seeds were often used for games amongst the littlest tribe members. Of course, when the Europeans arrived they had other intentions for the fruit, preferring to experiment with the seeds’ medicinal qualities instead of ingesting the fruit. Apparently they weren’t big fans of the taste.

Speaking of which, just what does the pawpaw taste like? Something along the lines of a cross between a banana, a pineapple and a mango. If I didn’t know outright that this was an Ontario sourced fruit, Paul and the Slow Food team would have had me fooled. The creamy, soft flesh is really unlike anything else growing on our farms and in our orchards. Which makes it all the more surprising that the precious pawpaw is native to North America!

A quick scan through the annals of history reveals that many older American folk songs make reference to the fruit – “way down yonder in the pawpaw patch” is just one of the recorded ditties. It is even said that George Washington’s favourite dessert was paw paw sorbet. No doubt, a man of good taste!

It’s a bit trickier to come across the elusive paw paws today, but it’s certainly worth seeking out this Ark of Taste entry. The fruit we tried at the Slow Food tasting were sourced from Grimo Nut Nursery (also a fantastic farm for hard to come by nut varieties, including heartnuts and hickory nuts). If you’re not near Niagara, try your nearest farmers’ market (Forbes Wild Foods recently brought some along to the Dufferin Grove market). If your vendors don’t have any, they may be able to point you in the direction of a farmer who does.

Happy Pawpaw Season Everyone!