Finally, finally, I have managed to collect some pawpaws from my seed-grown trees before the pesky opossums, raccoons, or squirrels got to them. As commonly described, they tasted vaguely like a mix of mango and banana but were softer and creamier than either. The photo above was taken immediately after harvesting–the pawpaws were slightly soft when pressed, but their skin was still green. They continued to ripen after picking, and over a couple of days became softer, slightly more yellowish, and more delicious.
The pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) is a member of the mostly tropical Annonaceae which also includes the soursop, custard apple, and cherimoya. The native range of A. triloba is almost entirely within the borders of the United States, from the Mississippi valley to Atlantic coast, with only a small extension into southern Ontario. The trees have a long history of cultivation in the eastern and midwestern U.S., but fruit is almost never seen in shops. Quite apart from the problem of transporting and storing the soft and short-lived fruit, it is difficult to produce in commercial quantities. The flowers of A. triloba have color and smell that indicates pollination by flies or beetles, but because they flower early in spring when the weather is still cold, pollination is often inefficient. Supposedly some people hang road-killed animals or dead fish from the branches of their trees to attract more pollinators and increase the chance of setting fruit. Adding to the difficulty, fruit set generally requires cross-pollination between two genetically distinct trees, and A. triloba tends to spread by suckers into multi-trunk patches of a single clone.
Four of my trees were grown from seed that I obtained from a friend in 2007. To add more genetic diversity, I also purchased one additional seedling from the local farmers market. The trees started flowering about eight years ago, and for the past three or four years they have produced a few fruit which always vanished in late summer, shortly before I thought they were ready to harvest. This year, I watched the fruit obsessively and harvested as soon as I realized that one had disappeared.
Over the last few years, the trees have also started to sucker, so I am well on my way to having a pawpaw patch, just like in the song.