HISTORIC TRIANGLE — Many locals right now might see strange, potato-looking fruit in Colonial Williamsburg, along the York and James rivers, or even in their backyards.
It’s a fruit that both looks and tastes tropical, but is not from a tropical place.
The pawpaw is perhaps one of the most confusing and largely forgotten about fruits in North America.
Many do not even realize that it grows here in Virginia and other places in North America.
But what exactly is the pawpaw?
The pawpaw is an edible fruit that is native to 26 states in the U.S.
Also dubbed the “poor man’s banana,” the pawpaw is often described as a cross between a mango and a banana, but almost resembles an apple on the inside.
The potato-shaped fruit has bright green skin that ripens to yellow, with dark seeds on the inside. Many grow in clusters on the trees.
It’s also a fruit that goes back centuries.
In the 1700s, George Washington documented his pawpaw trees, and it’s been said that frozen pawpaws were his favorite dessert. Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson had pawpaw seeds shipped from Virginia to people in Europe.
According to the National Park Service, people may have gotten sick from pawpaws on the Lewis and Clark expedition in the 1800s.
It apparently got its name from European explorers for its resemblance to the papaya.
The fruit is nutritious and easy to eat. It not only sustained European explorers and Native Americans, such as the Powhatan Indians, but also enslaved African Americans.
It also inspired an Appalachian folk song, in which the pawpaw patch was “way down yonder.”
So why has it become such an obscurity when it grows right here in our backyard?
The shelf life of pawpaws is pretty short, making it impossible for them to be sold in grocery stores.
While the pawpaw season is short, only lasting around eight weeks, they are not very difficult to grow.
Pawpaws are relatively easy to grow, as they are mainly pest and disease free.
Since they don’t have a long shelf life, many people choose to freeze them and use them to make different foods, especially ice cream or custard.
A treat that Washington would approve of.