by Tom Gibson
When last I left you, dear gardener reader, http://www.gardenopoliscleveland.org/2016/06/taking-a-swing-at-pawpaws/, my five bearing pawpaw trees were carrying about 20 fruit each. Just as important, they had held their fruit despite several vigorous spring showers. This was in contrast to the year before when storms knocked all but four of my baby fruitlets to the ground. In the intervening period I had added gypsum (calcium sulfate) as a way to encourage fruit set while preserving the acidic soil pH pawpaws prefer. In other words, I tried to toughen my little guys up to face whatever the increasingly extreme Northeast Ohio weather had to offer.
This is what they look like when very young and vulnerable:
So did they make it? Yes, big time!
They even withstood one of the most extreme weather events of the year: the so-called “microburst” of this past August. This storm hit a relatively small, 20-block area in my Cleveland Heights neighborhood that brought down numerous trees—including several on my street:The storm struck in the early evening, but an inspection the next morning showed that all my well-staked pawpaws had survived:
After that it was “wait and feel.” My particular pawpaw cultivars don’t change color much—maybe a little yellow here and there—when they ripen. So, like a nurse taking my patients’ pulse, the best way to gauge ripeness is to take a morning squeeze of each pawpaw. If they begin to soften, I wait a day or so for more softening, then bring them inside to fully ripen.
I’d leave the fruit on the tree longer except for some mammalian competition. Raccoon? Opossum? Something was coming through every night and sampling at least one pawpaw:
In the end, we harvested about 80 pawpaws. They lined our window sills:
A pawpaw is best when it feels squishy soft. That means its pulp is nice and custardy inside. You can eat them as is for dessert:
Or combine them in smoothies with sour blackberries:
But we also put the pulp into freezer bags, two cups to a bag, for use in baking:
Pawpaws add texture, flavor (banana/mango/nutmeg), and aroma to a lot of great baked goods: