Sporkeasy: Cookin’ with pawpaw

Words by Isaac Noland. Photos by Evan Chwalek.

Green, bulbous and enticingly strange fruit hang in clusters from skinny trees all over the Eastern U.S. Yep, it’s pawpaw time.

For those who have not yet tasted a pawpaw, it is surprisingly tropical. Surprising, because the pawpaw is native to the Midwest and surrounding regions. It tastes like a magical mix of mango, pineapple, banana, even avocado and other flavors that have no business coming from an Ohio fruit.

Big ol’ bunch.

I grew up with pawpaws in the woods around my house, eating the odd one here and there but never really delving into the nuances of the fruit. It’s hard to stay away from pawpaw fever now, though, especially in Athens. The annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival held every year at nearby Lake Snowden in Albany runs from Sept. 12 through 14. There you’ll find everything pawpaw, from art to food to history.

Food, of course, is why we’re here. Here are a couple of recipes born of experimentation and love for pawpaws.

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Pawpaw jerk sauce

Put that ish on erry’thang.

2 cups pawpaw puree

1 red chili pepper, diced up finely

4 serrano peppers, diced as well

1/2 cuke, seeded, diced

2 medium-size carrots, peeled and diced

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1/4 apple cider vinegar

juice of half a lime

dash o’ salt

dash o’ pepper

Place the first five ingredients in a food processor (or blender). Combine until smooth. Pour into a saucepan, add vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper. Bring to a calm, low simmer and cover. Cook for about 45 minutes until thickened. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate excess. I’m sure it can be frozen but I’m probably going to use up all of mine too quickly to find out.

That’s a wrap.

Adapted from a recipe originally for papaya, this spicy yet smooth sauce has infinite applications. We put it on a flour tortilla with greens, veggies, some protein, sour cream and cotija, a hard Mexican cheese. You can also use it as a chicken or shrimp marinade, it gets all sexy caramelized and succulent.

—–

Pawpaw pie with Nocino whipped cream

As is custom around here, sprinkle it with more booze.

This pie is almost as simple as it is tasty.

2 cups pawpaw puree

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup sugar

3 eggs

dash of salt

little cinnamon

little ground ginger

1 store-bought graham cracker pie crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine pawpaw puree and whipping cream in a blender until smooth and frothy. Go ahead and take a taste of that mix; it’s delectable. Pour it into a mixing bowl and add the sugar, eggs, salt and spices. Fully combine the ingredients. Pour into the graham cracker crust, and place in the oven for about an hour and 15 minutes. It rill rise in the oven a good deal; check it partway through in case you need to rotate it so part of the top doesn’t get too brown. Take it out and let sit for about two episodes of Trailer Park Boys.

Now for that whipped cream.

Nocino is a spiced walnut liqueur, originating from Italy. We managed to get our hands on some that a chef in Williamstown, W. Va. made last year because, yes, it takes over a year to make. In the spring, you take unripe walnuts, cut them in half and put them in a bottle with some grain alcohol. Traditionally it would be grappa or something else. Then you may add a little cinnamon or clove along with it. The mixture turns black after a while, and in three months you dilute it with simple syrup. By that point it’s a pretty intense flavor, so you want to let it sit ideally for a year to let it mellow.

We did a simple homemade whipped cream.

1 cup whipped cream

couple tablespoons of sugar

Whip the two ingredients together until the cream starts to stiffen. Pour in about 2 tablespoons of nocino, and keep whipping until you get stiff peaks (heh). You now have a subtly nutty, spicy-sweet whipped cream.

—–

There you have it, folks. A couple simple pawpaw dishes to help you explore the depth of this great American fruit. We’re still in the window for picking pawpaws (September through October) so get out there. Remember, you want them soft and able to fall off the tree without much disturbance. If it’s hanging on and hard, it isn’t ripe.

Another bunch of pawpaws.

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