The Hoosier banana

Pawpaws get new life as local interest grows.


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The pawpaw fruit, known also as the Hoosier banana, grows naturally in Indiana and other midwestern regions. / Photo via flickr

These days, more people are “Pickin’ up pawpaws,” and “puttin’ ‘em in their pockets.”

The pawpaw (think mix between a mango, banana and cantaloupe) is a native fruit to Southern Indiana and the largest North American fruit, growing up to six inches long. It’s an ancient plant, so old that it predates bees, and is pollinated by flies and beetles. Scientists at Purdue use its twigs for their acetogenins to stop the growth of tumors. But for others, it’s just a fruit.

The inside is yellow, creamy and meaty. Substantial like an apple, but thick like a banana. Pawpaws are only ripe for a few weeks during the autumn months.

Bobbi Boos of Life Certified Organic Farm in Bloomington says, in recent years, she’s seen the market grow. “It’s the uniqueness. People want to try it because it’s not common.”

The plant itself, a narrow conical tree, is rarely cultivated — those, like Boos, who grow them don’t always harvest them to sell.

The best way to find pawpaws is at farmers markets in Southern Indiana during the end of September and early October.

If you run across one, Boos recommends trying it raw. Treat it like a banana. If you like bananas green, try the pawpaw while it’s green and tougher. Otherwise let it get very soft and the skin gray.

To cook with the pawpaw, Boos recommends making banana bread or persimmon pudding but with the mush of the pawpaw fruit.

PAWPAW BREAD RECIPE

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 ⅓ cups mashed overripe pawpaws

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in one bowl. In another, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and pawpaws until well blended. Stir pawpaw mixture into flour mixture until moist. Pour batter into pan.
3. Bake in oven for 60-65 minutes. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack.

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