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Its flavor might remind you of something tropical. It tastes like a cross between mango and banana. 

I was walking through the greenway on a beautiful late summer day and I heard rustling in the wooded area next to me. I stopped, peering to make sure I wasn’t about to become an animals dinner, and out came a man with a grocery bag. He was startled to run across me, and I was just as startled to run across him. After staring at each other, he simply says “Want pawpaw”?

I never heard of pawpaws. I mean, it’s what I called my grandfather, but never knew that pawpaw was something found in the woods. The man proceeded to tell me that unlike Apples which were originally from Asia and brought to America from European colonist, pawpaws are fruit that is indigenous to North America.  The oblong, green fruit has been around for hundreds of years, growing in swaths of the Mid-Atlantic, South, and Midwest. Inside the greenish-yellow exterior, the pale yellow flesh is soft and custardy, with fat nickel-sized seeds. Its bright flavor might remind you of something tropical. It tastes like a cross between mango and banana. Paw Paws were once cultivated by Native Americans and allegedly, George Washington loved eating them for dessert chilled.

The reason you don’t find it in the stores is that it just doesn’t travel well. It doesn’t fit well into our conventional, large-scale agricultural system that ships food across the country, and across the globe. While they may not have found their way into supermarkets, chefs who have access to the fruit are using it in delicious ways. At Dos Urban Cantina in Chicago, Pastry chef Jennifer Enyart creates steamed pawpaw pudding cake and pawpaw flan with caramelized baby bananas.

The best way to eat a paw is to cut it open and eat with a spoon. Once you have one, you’ll forever be going to every farmer’s market trying to find them.

Read more about pawpaws here.