Wednesday, October 26, 2011

PAW PAWS and the Joy of Discovery

Come this time of year, I often ask people whether they've had a paw paw. The most frequent response is, "what's a paw paw?"

Paw Paw, Michigan was named after the paw paw. Not many people know that. 

We're in the northern most range of this exquisite, tropical fruit, and if you look carefully you just might find some growing out in the wild.

The fact that so few people have any idea what a paw paw is, or that it grows natively in our state, makes the paw paw emblematic of the enduring discovery that still greets us right outside our back doors. There are still fruits and plants and animals that have--for what ever reason--flown below our radars of experience. In other words, there's still a lot to discover out there. And the rewards can be great, particularly in the case of the paw paw.

I only came to know the paw paw a few years back and it was a discovery that has sweetened my life. It's safe to say the paw paw is now my favorite fruit. There's nothing quite like it: it's a cross between a mango and a banana. It's especially sweet, almost sugary, and is a custard-like consistency. They're absolutely delicious.

Once I tasted them I was obsessed with finding them in the wild. That's part of the adventure, and also because you won't find them at the store (except for the People's Food Co-op, which, for the first time I believe, had them in their produce section this year). The paw paw isn't especially cooperative though when it comes to mass marketing. It perishes easily and I believe can be difficult to grow. That's why most people have never heard of them: because it's the round fruit that never fit in the square peg of industrial food. That's the converse beauty of our commercial world: it's one page menu can actually deprive us of choice, yet inadvertently creates a cornicopia of discovery once you "go native" with produce. 

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