Friday, September 24, 2010

Farmer's Market Treasure: The Pawpaw

Some people rummage for treasures at antique stores. Others comb beaches with metal detectors. My family's favorite treasure-hunting haunt? The local farmer's market. Each week during the summer and fall, we visit different local markets, searching for new and unusual produce. Our favorite markets are green markets, like the Geneva Greenmarket on Thursday mornings in Geneva, Illinois, and the Green City Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays in downtown Chicago, across from Lincoln Park Zoo. Green markets require vendors to be local (usually within 100-200 miles) and use sustainable growing practices. At green markets, your more likely to find heirloom and little-known varieties of fruits and vegetables, most of them grown organically. A basket of golden raspberries, a bunch of cosmic carrots with purple skin, orange pulp and yellow core, a sticky slab of honeycomb- you never know what booty you'll plunder at the market.

Recently, on a trip to the Green City Market, my kids and I discovered a rare jewel. We nearly marched past the elderly lady waiting behind her simple card table. Her stand was wedged between a fruit grower and heirloom tomato farmer, both with impressive spreads. All the lady had were a few paper plates holding what looked like elongated, misshapen, and badly bruised pears. "Try this pawpaw," she said, cutting one of the "pears" and offering us a slippery slice. Intrigued, I tasted the fruit. Immediately, I felt transported to someplace tropical- the creamy flavor of banana, mango and vanilla filling my mouth. I'd never tasted something so exotic produced in the Midwest. We bought half the lady's supply, feeling giddy with our new find.

Back home, I did a little research on pawpaw. It turns out the pawpaw is hardly "new." It's the largest fruit native to North America and is a distant cousin to the cherimoya, a fruit you’d encounter while exploring a farmer’s market in Hawaii, or maybe Ecuador. Pawpaw was cultivated by Native Americans and enjoyed by early settlers. Chilled pawpaw fruit was even a favorite dessert of George Washington. But you won’t find pawpaw in the produce aisle of your favorite grocery store. Its splotchy appearance and extremely short shelf life have shunned pawpaw from commercial favor. Don’t be fooled by pawpaw’s deceptive looks. This fruit is a prize worth finding. But you better hurry; this gem is only in season for a short period between mid August and October. Happy hunting!

For more information on a greenmarkets, visit:

To learn more about pawpaw fruit, visit:

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