Pawpaw aspirations

Traditional fruit headed to modern marketplace?

KEARNEYSVILLE — Could it be the pawpaw’s time in the sun?

[cleeng_content id="523844723" description="Read it now!" price="0.19" t="article"]Researchers at the West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture and the Kearneysville Tree Fruit Research and Education Center sure hope so.

Recently, a team of volunteers came together plant 600 trees at the research center with the aim toward giving the Appalachian fruit a brighter future.

Volunteers plant pawpaw trees at WVU’s Kearneysville Tree Fruit Research and Education Center.

Volunteers plant pawpaw trees at WVU’s Kearneysville
Tree Fruit Research and Education Center.

That would be the culmination of a dream for researcher Neil Peterson, who has been spearheading an effort for 35 years to breed a pawpaw that looks and tastes more like a fruit consumers might want to purchase.

Peterson said he believes the pawpaw is every bit the rival of a perfect peach or apple.

“Pawpaws can be compared to as tasting like a banana with hints of pineapple or cantaloupe,” he said.

Part of Peterson’s work has involved making the pawpaw smaller.

“That way you wouldn’t have to deal with ladders when harvesting,” Peterson said. “The pawpaw is the largest edible native fruit of North America. It various in size from the size of a hen’s egg to a mango and can grow up to a pound.”

The pawpaw, which grows from New Jersey to Georgia and as far west from Texas to Nebraska and even as far north as Michigan, comes in a number of different varieties, including the Shenandoah, the Potomac and the Susquehanna.

The fruit blooms late in the spring, making it resistant to late frosts.

Rob Brannan, a food scientist at Ohio University, is interested in studying the nutrients in the pawpaw fruit. So far, he has published a study that found the antioxidant count in the fruit to be pretty high, about the same as cranberry and cherry.

Peterson said he thinks the pawpaw could easily become a crop for farmers. Peterson’s pawpaws are being grown in a few orchards and sold at farmers markets.

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