Bieri, who has 45 to 50 pawpaw trees growing on his secluded property near Yellow Springs, including a grove of 8-year-old trees near his porch, prefers his pawpaws raw. But the fruit can be found in everything from ice cream to wheat beer to pretzels.
The pawpaw isn’t universally popular. Its bold taste wins raves from some and repulses others. Sometimes the fruit can leave a bitter aftertaste. Picking the pawpaw at the right time is paramount, fans say.
“You can get flavors of mango, papaya, banana, with aftertaste of melon, vanilla, or cinnamon,” said Ron Powell of Cincinnati, president of the Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association, which has an estimated 100 members. “It kind of overwhelms the mouth with all these flavors coming through at once. Some people can’t handle it.”
American Indians and pioneers prized the fruit for its medicinal properties; twigs and bark could be used as an anti-louse medication, for example. The fruit, which has a short shelf life, fell out of favor after refrigeration caught on and other fruits became more widely available.
But pawpaws are seeing a resurgence in popularity, in part due to the local food movement. And the pawpaw tree, which grows as an understory tree in the wild, has attracted landscapers’ attention with its low maintenance, natural resistance to bugs, purple blooms and bright yellow fall foliage.
“There’s definite increased interest,” said Shawn Wright, an Ohio State University Extension researcher based in Piketon. “I think people are becoming aware of the eating local trend.”
The fruit can still be hard to find locally. Pawpaws or products containing them currently aren't sold at the 2nd Street Public Market, according to Jimmy Harless, the market's manager. But they'll be available Sept. 19-20 at the Ohio Pawpaw Festival near Albany in southeast Ohio. To order pawpaws, contact Powell through the pawpaw association's Web site, ohiopawpaw.com.
Bieri, the 57-year-old land manager at the Glen Helen Nature Preserve, is hoping for better luck with his pawpaws this year than last year, when he harvested only one piece of fruit from his still-maturing trees. The windstorm downed the rest, and critters quickly devoured them.
“The native wildlife loves pawpaws,” Bieri said. “It’s a delicacy.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-7457 or bsutherly@DaytonDailyNews.com.