Pass the pawpaw please

Pawpaws on the tree

Carolina days in late summer provide us with humid warm weather, afternoon showers and the anticipation of a colorful fall season. This time of the year also provides a forgotten or little know tasty treat.

As with all things, there are those “in the know” who are glad our largest native American fruit remains somewhat elusive. It means less competition in finding and consuming this vintage delicacy.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about the pawpaw fruit. While it is grown in about half the nation, because of its short harvest season, ease of bruising and short shelf life, the pawpaw is not found in common grocery stores. You might find them at local farmers markets, and even then only for a few weeks during the year.

I have had the opportunity to introduce the curious fruit to several people this year. Some have said that will take some getting used to and others have proclaimed their profound gratitude for the introduction. To me, the pawpaw has the blended flavor of mango, banana and pineapple.

A few words of wisdom to those new to the pawpaw: It’s a bit like a custard. It’s important to pick them when they are ripe. They are best when the flesh is yellow and soft, but not too dark and mushy, unless that’s the way you love them.

It’s flexible and can be used in just about any way you like. It’s like anything else, you just need to experiment and see if you find something that works for you. Pawpaw ice cream is a favorite of many. A cup and half of mashed pawpaw, two cups of cream, two cups milk, a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and five egg yolks. Apply your ice cream making method and then you will have an amazing treat.

For those of a certain age, the “Paw-Paw Patch” song will bring back memories. The song has several regional versions. This is one of more common versions of the youthful folk song:

Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?

Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?

Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?

Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Come on, boys, let’s go find her,

Come on, boys, let’s go find her,

Come on, boys, let’s go find her,

Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,

Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,

Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,

Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

It’s hard to say how many pawpaws you can get in your pocket because they vary in sizes. Greg Reighard, a professor in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Clemson University, is conducting research on pawpaw. Clemson Musser Fruit Research Center has a good size grove of pawpaw trees with a variety of cultivars. The fruit can be small or up to a pound or more. So, you might only get one of those in your pocket.

While the flesh is good to eat, you should not eat the skin or the seeds. A lot of research is being done on the tree leaves and bark as they seem to have anti-cancer properties.

Another note of nature wonderment: The zebra swallowtail butterfly comes for the larvae that take its primary food source from the leaf of the pawpaw tree.

Please pass the pawpaw — it’s warm outside and I need to make some ice cream.

Carl White is the executive producer and host of the award winning syndicated TV show “Carl White’s Life In the Carolinas.” The weekly show is in its seventh year of syndication and can be seen in the Greenville, Spartanburg viewing market on WLOS ABC 5 a.m. Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays at WMYA My 40. Visit www.lifeinthecarolinas.com, email White at Carl@lifeinthecarolinas.com