Drinks

Field Guide: Pawpaw

Foragers’ fruit

photo: Courtesy of the Capitol Grille


In foraging literature, the pawpaw, a soft, pale-green fruit indigenous to the temperate forests of the eastern United States, is allotted a produce aisle’s worth of flavors, among them mango, banana,
pineapple, and melon. “I think it tastes like if you were to make mango and banana cupcakes, and then eat the batter,” says Richard Neal, the chef de cuisine at the Capitol Grille in Nashville. “It’s sweet, and tropical, and super soft.”

Neal, an avid forager who harvests ingredients from the woods around Nashville year-round, takes full advantage of the two weeks or so each year when wild pawpaws are in season. “It’s like my birthday,” he says. And in fact last year, before the fruits were fully ripe, impatience got the better of him. While pickling green strawberries, he halved a few hard, unripe pawpaws and submerged them in a sweet brine, creating a crunchy, fruit-tinged pickle that he serves alongside the cured meats on his charcuterie platter.

The pawpaw is notoriously prone to spoilage, and difficult to cultivate. So if you live anywhere from Maryland to the northern parts of Alabama, Louisiana, and even Texas, you’re more likely to find it in the woods than at the grocery store. Look for trees in rich bottomland soil, near creeks and rivers. And keep an eye out for farmers’ market vendors and roadside stands in the coming weeks, too. Pawpaw season is waning in the Mid-South, but still ahead in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. If you can find a few fruits, ripe or not, remove the seeds and bitter skin and put them to use with these recipes from Neal.


Ingredients

  • Pawpaw Syllabub

    • 1 quart whole milk

    • Flesh of 1 large pawpaw

    • 4 oz. bourbon

    • 1/2 tsp. coriander seed

    • Orange peel, for garnish

  • Pickled Green Pawpaws

    • 1 cup champagne vinegar

    • 3/4 cup sugar

    • 1/2 cup water

    • 1 tsp. whole allspice

    • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns

    • 2 fresh bay leaves

    • 3 green pawpaws, split, skinned, and de-seeded


Preparation

  1. For the Pawpaw Syllabub:

    Combine milk and pawpaw and bring to a simmer over medium heat, taking care not to let the mixture boil. Remove from heat. Chill. Once cool, add to a blender with bourbon and coriander and puree until smooth. Pour into glasses and garnish with orange peel. (Serves 4)

  2. For the Pickled Green Pawpaws:

    Combine all ingredients except for pawpaws in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add fruit to a sterilized pint jar. Pour hot liquid on top. Seal the jar and process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Let sit for at least a week before opening. (Makes 1 pint)

Recipes from chef de cuisine Richard Neal of the Capitol Grille in Nashville, Tennessee


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