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Interesting Things to Know About a Pawpaw Tree

There is estimated to be about 60,065 species of trees in the world.  One of those trees is the pawpaw tree, a fruit tree that produces fruits three to six inches long.  Pawpaw trees are the largest edible fruit trees native to North America, and they produce greenish-blackish fruit.  The flesh of the fruit is pale to bright yellow and contains glossy, dark brown seeds.  Pawpaws have been described as tasting like a cross between a banana and a mango.  Sadly, it is difficult to find pawpaws at the grocery store.  If you are wanting to try an exotic fruit such as pawpaws, you may want to consider growing your own.  Today I will be going over tips to growing your own pawpaw tree, as well as ways to eat and cook the fruit.

What Climates Pawpaw Trees Grow In

Pawpaw trees do well in humid continental climates, similar to their native range (they are native to eastern United States, from Canada to Florida, and as far west as Nebraska).  They require warm to hot summers, with at least 160 frost free days and mild to cold winters, with a minimum of 400 hours of winter chill.  That said, the pawpaw is hardy between temperatures of -9°C (15°F) and -25°C (-15°F), meaning that it can withstand the cold temperatures of a southern Ontario winter.  But this tree does prefer warmer climates.  You can find out what your climate is by clicking here.

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Image Source: Fast Growing Trees

How to Grow a Pawpaw Tree

If you live in a climate that is perfect for growing a pawpaw tree, then great!  You are ready to begin planting.  Pawpaw trees prefer slightly acidic soil, with pH 5.5-7.  It grows best in sites that are moist with well-drained soils, but waterlogged, swampy areas should be avoided.  Before you plant your pawpaw tree outside, you'll need to let the seeds germinate.  I'll go over the steps to planting your pawpaw tree here.

  1. First, do not let the seed dry out.  If the seed dries out, your pawpaw tree will die.
  2. Next, you’ll need to clear out space in your refrigerator, as pawpaw seeds need to to experience a period of cold stratification for up to 100 days below 41°F.  This is what happens in nature when the fruit falls to the ground and the seeds spend the rest of winter under the snow and leaves.  If you are wanting to plant your pawpaw tree outside, you may be able to plant it directly into the ground as long as the weather is cold out.  Keep in mind though that if the winters aren't cold enough, the seeds will not germinate.
  3. Thoroughly clean the seeds, and pack them in Ziploc bags with a moist medium, such as peat or sphagnum moss.  Do not put the seeds in your freezer, because your seeds will die.  Only put them in the refrigerator.
  4. In the spring, plant the pawpaw tree outdoors or in a container.
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Image Source: Muda Mrefu

How to Care for a Pawpaw Tree

Pawpaw trees are fairly easy to care for.  Here are some tips for keeping your pawpaw tree healthy and thriving.

  • Pawpaw trees are naturally an understorey species, meaning that they do not do well in full sun (more than 6 hours of direct sun per day) when they are young.  This means that the tree should either be planted in locations with part sun (2-6 hours of sun per day) or during the first year it should have a a small screen placed around it to protect it from the sun.  Shade is also recommended.  After the first year or so, the pawpaw will be able to handle any kind of sun or shade.
  • It is important to remove any weeds that are more than 1 ½ feet from the base of the tree to prevent competition.  Keeping the tree well mulched will help prevent weeds from growing.
  • Watering your pawpaw tree is also very important.  Water twice a week or as needed.  When it is hot out, you should water it three times per week.  Water it on a slow drip at the tree base for 15 minutes.  This will give your pawpaw tree a good soaking.
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Image Source: Jiovi

How to Harvest the Fruit

If grown from seed, pawpaws will begin to flower and fruit in six to eight years, or when the tree reaches roughly six feet in height.  Once your pawpaw tree begins yielding fruit, it is important to know how and when to pick it.  First, you must know when it is ripe.  A ripe pawpaw can be picked from the tree if it “gives” to pressure.  Squeeze the fruit gently with your thumb and forefinger.  If there’s give, you can pick or cut it from the tree.  If it’s hard, you’ll have to pick it another day.  Pawpaws can’t be forced to ripen.  If you pick this fruit too early, they will darken but never soften and sweeten.

The best way to harvest the pawpaws is to shake the tree.  A gentle shake will send ripe fruit falling, while unripe fruit remains attached.  Keep in mind though that pawpaws can bruise easily.  Another tip for knowing when to harvest a pawpaw fruit is to smell the fruit.  If it has a strong floral perfume smell, it is ready to be eaten.

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Image Source: Serious Eats

How to Cook and Eat Pawpaws

It has been said by many that the best way to eat a pawpaw, also called a paw paw fruit, is to eat it fresh right off the tree.  But if you have a lot of pawpaws, it can be difficult to eat them all before they go bad.  Ripe pawpaws only last for two or three days at room temperature, and they only last for a week when put in the refrigerator.  Unripe pawpaws will last for three weeks in the refrigerator.  Unlike mangoes, which is what this product tastes like, the pawpaw cannot be diced.  This is because it is too soft.  So if you want to cut it so that it can be saved in the freezer, you will need to halve the pawpaws with a knife and squish them with your bare hands through a colander set over a large bowl.  The pulp freezes well in a Ziploc bag for up to six months.

There are also many other delicious recipes you can make from pawpaws.  You can make pawpaw pudding, pawpaw bread, and even pawpaw ice cream.  Here are a few recipes you may want to try:

PawPaw Bread

Recipe by All Recipes

Quick and easy to make, this recipe will surely become a favorite at your house.  It only requires 3 steps, and the results are delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 1 serving cooking spray
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups pawpaw pulp
  • 1/3 cup tepid water
  • 1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).  Grease the bottom of an 8-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
  2. Combine sugar and butter in a bowl; beat together until smooth.  Beat in eggs.  Add pawpaw pulp and water; beat until combined, about 30 seconds.  Stir in flour, walnuts, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.  Pour into the prepared loaf pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes.  Allow to cool before slicing, about 30 minutes.
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Image Source: Taste

Pawpaw Ice Cream

Recipe by Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

Need a little different taste in your ice cream?  Try making pawpaw ice cream.  This is a delicious dessert that will be enjoyed by many.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups mashed paw paws, about 4 or 5 paw paws
  • 2 cups cream
  • 2 cups milk
  • A scant 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 a vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, scraped
  • 5 egg yolks

Directions:

  1. Start by making the custard for the ice cream.  Heat the cream and milk and sugar in a pot over medium heat to the steaming point, about 165°F.  If you are using a real vanilla bean, add it to the mixture now.  If you are using extract, wait a bit.

  2. Beat the egg yolks in a bowl.  Stirring the eggs all the time, add one ladle of the hot cream mixture into the eggs.  Do this a second time -- this is tempering the eggs so they don't curdle in the hot cream.  Pour the egg mixture into the pot.

  3. Stir the custard often and heat it back to the steaming point.  When it thickens -- it should coat the back of a spoon -- turn off the heat and pour the custard into a bowl.  Stir in the vanilla extract if that's what you are using.

  4. When the custard is cool, whisk in the mashed paw paws until they are well combined.  You can put the mixture into your ice cream maker now, or you can push it through a fine-meshed strainer to remove any stray bits; you'll need to fish out the vanilla bean if you used that anyway.  Run through your ice cream machine and eat!

Final Thoughts

A pawpaw tree is a great tree to consider growing if you are wanting to eat some pawpaw fruits. A pawpaw tree prefers warmer climates, but as a seed it must be kept in the cold for it to germinate.  The pawpaws are delicious to eat, as they are described as a cross between a banana and a mango.  You can eat them fresh, freeze the pulp, or make tasty recipes such as pawpaw bread or pawpaw ice cream.  I went over some recipes in this article.  Have fun growing your pawpaw tree.  I know you will definitely have fun eating your pawpaw fruits!  Enjoy!

Mariann Foster

I am one of our content writers for Everything Backyard. I am a mother and business owner of Big Horn Mountain Alpacas in Wyoming. I love farm life, cutting my own firewood in the mountains, and participating in local trail run races.

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