For years, it seemed like barely anyone knew what pawpaws were. I, too, was in this camp of the pawpaw-oblivious, and I even grew up where this amazing fruit grows wild in leafy hardwood forests.
But that’s changing. People are pawpaw-curious, and they want to learn more about North America’s largest natuve fruit. Are you one of those people? Get set, because pawpaws are not just a thing you can eat. They’re a way of seeing the world. Once you know about pawpaws, it seems anything is possible.
If you’re an old hat to the ways of the pawpaw, baking an old-fashioned pawpaw pudding is a fine celebration of the Brigadoon that is pawpaw season.
What Are Pawpaws?
Unlike their other brethren in the Annoceae (custard apple) family, pawpaws (Asimina triloba) are not native to the tropics. One taste of a pawpaw and you’d never guess that, because they are a riot of banana, mango, and pineapple flavors.
Pawpaws are understory trees, typically no taller than 30 feet, though it’s possible to find ones that stretch skyward a few stories. They grow in a swath from southeast Canada down to the northern Florida panhandle, and as far west as the Mississippi River. The fruit, which is oblong and can usually fit easily in your palm, is pale green on the outside and easily blends in with the surrounding leaves in a late summer forest.
If pawpaws are so great, why don’t we see them in grocery stores? That’s the rub, my friend. Pawpaws have an alarmingly short shelf life, and are extremely delicate when ripe. To get your hands on them, you must either forage them, grow them, or have a trusty hookup.
Tapping Into the Pawpaw Mystique
This lack of access, for some, makes pawpaws all the more fascinating. Once I came across my first pawpaw, I was a goner. I even wrote a whole book of pawpaw recipes.
Pawpaws are now such a big part of my life that I measure the year by what the pawpaw trees growing in the woods near my home in southwest Ohio are doing. April brings their tiny, three-lobed maroon flowers; May delivers the luminous canopy of their green leaves; June offers inklings of young fruit. August and September are when the action is, rolling out stolen hours in the woods gathering the short-lived fruit before it rots. October is the poignant turning of their leaves to yellow-gold. And from November to the following April, the trees are bare and scrawny, offering no hint at the burst of life they will give forth in the months to come.
Eat your first pawpaw out in the woods, if you can. It’s a messy, feral experience you’ll never forget. If you don’t know where to get pawpaws and want the immersive experience of the pawpaw hunt, listen to this episode of The Sporkful.
Pawpaw Pudding, If You Please
Come late summer, I brave the brush and bugs and gather pawpaws to process their soft, golden flesh into pulp free of skin and seeds. Then I set to making a flurry of pawpaw recipes. One constant go-to? Pawpaw pudding, a classic Appalachian recipe.
Once baked, pawpaw pudding is extremely similar in texture to a crustless pumpkin pie, but the taste is a whole other ball of wax: You’ll get intriguing caramel notes mingled with that undeniable pawpaw tropicality. With a food processor, it takes only minutes to blitz the batter together. If you have only a few pawpaws, pawpaw pudding is a worthy recipe. To me, it tastes of the bittersweet weeks when daylight shortens and kids go back to school, yet long spans of the afternoon can still be sweltering with promise.
More Recipes for Wonderfully Weird Fruit
This is an old-fashioned baked pudding, not as creamy as a custard but smooth and rich, with intriguing caramel notes and an undeniable pawpaw kick.
In some regions, “pawpaw” refers to papayas (Carica papaya), and not the North American fruit this recipe calls for. This recipe will not work with papaya, only with North American pawpaw (Asimina triloba). If you can’t find fresh pawpaws where you live, you can order the frozen pulp online.
This recipe is from The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook (Belt Publishing, 2021) and shared with permission from the publisher.
2/3 cup (93g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 to 3/4 cup (132 to 150g) sugar, depending on the sweetness of the pawpaws
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup pawpaw pulp (see recipe note)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Crème fraîche or whipped cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Position a rack in the middle. Use butter or cooking spray to grease an 8 x 8-inch baking dish, preferably glass or ceramic.
Make the batter:
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda to combine.
In a large glass measuring cup or medium bowl, combine the pawpaw, buttermilk, half-and-half, egg and egg yolk, and vanilla. With the machine running, add the pawpaw-buttermilk mixture through the feed tube. Turn off the machine, scrape down the sides, and add the melted butter with the machine running. Your batter should have the consistency of pancake batter.
To make this gluten free, use 1/3 cup white rice flour in place of the all-purpose flour.
Pour the batter into the greased dish. Bake until the center is set but still jiggly (like a pumpkin pie), 35 to 45 minutes. As it bakes the pudding may puff up, then deflate—this is normal. The edges will brown and the center will be flat, shiny, and amber-colored.
Cool and serve:
Set on a wire rack to cool (the pudding will collapse as it cools). Serve at room temperature with crème fraîche or whipped cream. I like this for breakfast with a big dollop of Greek yogurt, but I could say that about most any dessert.
The pudding will keep for 2 to 3 days at room temperature. I suppose you could refrigerate it, but it tastes better at room temperature.
Did you love the recipe? Leave us stars below!
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 7g||9%|
|Saturated Fat 4g||20%|
|Total Carbohydrate 32g||12%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 22g|
|Vitamin C 9mg||46%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|