He remembered from his childhood that he had once eaten a pawpaw and had not really cared for the taste, but then that had been many, many years ago. She had never seen, much less eaten, the green fruit, so he called wondering if we knew of any pawpaw trees growing along the creek. I assured him that we did, and I promised to call when they ripened, usually in the middle of September. He promised that they would look forward to my call.

We know of four large pawpaw patches in our section of the valley, one on the hill behind our log home and three down along the road that runs by the creek. It seems that the pawpaw trees grow best by the edge of the woods, where their slender trunks are still protected by the surrounding trees, but the fruit can get enough sunshine to grow and ripen.

The pawpaw are an interesting fruit, native to the eastern United States. In the springtime, their deep purple flowers are pollinated by flies and smell rather like rotten meat, not particularly enjoyable to the human nose. When the green fruit first start to grow, in clusters of two to four, they look like small lima beans that eventually fatten and turn into oblong florescent spheres, that finally become large smooth- skinned fruits, some the size of my hand.

Then, perfectly on cue, and exactly in the middle of September, the creek valley air begins to grows sweet with their banana-like scent, as the ripened fruit fall to the ground. Sadly, however, pawpaw fruit have a very short life from ripening to time of spoiling, so I knew that there would only be a short window of opportunity for me to call our friends and let them know it was time to stop by and join us on a pawpaw hunt.

Years past, Greg and I have been able to gather bushel baskets of the fruit. Greg would drive the backhoe up and down the creek road, with me in the bucket, and when we would come upon a pawpaw-laden tree, Greg would lift the bucket up so I could pick the ripe fruit. I knew to choose those pawpaw whose smooth skin had just begun to turn a darker green, and whose flesh was just beginning to soften under my fingers.

Other years, we have simply stood at the base of the slender trees and gently shaken the trunk as we listen to the steady plop of the ripe fruit as they drop to the ground around us.

Last week, as I was driving down the creek road after running errands up town, I saw two bright green pawpaw lying in the middle of the road. I knew that it was pawpaw time. Our friends answered my call and stopped by just a few days later.

We set out, walking down the creek to the largest grove, in search of just the perfect pawpaw. I was somewhat anxious, as I knew that this had been a hard year on all of our fruit trees. The heavy spring rains had knocked most all of the flowers to the ground, and we had gathered only a few pears and not a single kiwi, apple, peach or plum. I had, however, kept a careful eye on the pawpaw, and I knew that some of the trees had indeed borne fruit.

We searched the edges of the woods, looking up through the leaves to the beautiful blue sky overhead. We passed under many pawpaw trees, not seeing a single fruit. I was growing worried, but then, at the very most down-creek edge of our land, we found several trees with several fruit. Greg reached up to pick some of the lower hanging fruit, but they were still as hard as could be, not in the least bit ripe. Then we spied another tree with
quite a few fruit, way up high. Greg walked through the forest undergrowth to shake the trunk of the slim tree, but the fruit held tight, far from ripe. Disappointed, we turned to head back the way we had come. I promised to make our friends some pawpaw bread when the fruit finally did ripen, but it was not the same as eating a freshly picked fruit.

We continued our walk on past the driveway that leads up to our cabin, and it was then that I remembered the fruit I had seen in the road, farther up the creek by the big culvert. My hope was renewed, and as we neared the spot where I had seen the fallen fruit, I saw the seeds in the road, left behind by some lucky creek critter. Once again, Greg reached up overhead and this time, he felt one lone, soft-skinned pawpaw. He pulled out his pocket
knife and sliced away the thin skin on half of the fruit. He then carefully cut off first one and then another sliver of the soft yellow fruit to hand on his knife blade to our expectant friends. The fruit meat had the perfect consistency of thick custard. With care, our friends picked the fruit off the blade.

Our one friend smiled, remembering the sweet banana-like flavor. He told us that it tasted better than he had remembered, but still declined a second slice. She also smiled and eagerly accepted a second sliver of the yellow fruit meat from Greg’s blade. It had been a wonderful day indeed, and hopefully, over the next week or two, I will be able to gather enough of the sweet fruit to make a few loaves of pawpaw bread. I use the exact same
recipe as banana bread, but obviously substitute pawpaw for banana.

With the scarcity of the fruit this year, though, I know that I will have to race those creek valley critters to that sweet pawpaw prize.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.