Sunday, November 1, 2009

Native Fruits

I LOVE apple season. (I just finished eating some apple cobbler a few minutes ago.) In both New York and Michigan, apples have been abundant and apple-picking a source of outdoor fun. Seasonal foods thrill me. You spend an entire year without something, and then for this brilliant, glowing span of a season, the weather, colors, tastes, and smells sing a delicious, novel song. It's kind of like this with apples, but you can get apples all year long. You can still go pick up a bag of Chilean apples at the grocery store in April.

Being in the Midwest this fall means that I've been able to enjoy another seasonal thrill that is a little harder to come by: native fruits. Specifically, persimmons and paw paws. Since I discovered persimmons on my college campus in Indiana several years ago, there's always a little part of my brain that registers October with a bright orange persimmon exclamation point.

Persimmons, not quite ripe

Native persimmons are much smaller than the imported ones you might find at a grocery store. The important thing to know about them is that they taste like you're licking carpet unless they're completely, falling off the tree, mushy-slop ripe. Once they're to that point, they're heavenly. I've heard lots of Hoosiers talk about persimmon pudding, which I gather is more like bread pudding than custard or actual pudding. A friend recently showed me his mushed-up, seeded pulp in a pint bag in the freezer. He planned on making persimmon pudding after he'd collected enough fruits. I'll happily try making the pudding, but really there is nothing better than eating a cold fruit off the ground, spitting out the seeds, and shoving your hands into your pockets to warm up while you search for more.

Paw paw fruit

This is the first time I've ever eaten a paw paw and they've been the highlight of my fall food world. I've heard of them for many years. I've seen plenty of paw paw trees, but never a single fruit. (They are the largest native american fruit.) I just learned that they're also called the "Indiana banana." There's a town in Michigan called Paw Paw. (A friend of mine grew up there.) But Chris was out in a field, as he so often is, and found a grove of paw paws nearby. He was able to haul home nearly 20 pounds of fruit.

They don't look all that appetizing. I mean, they're walnut-green, oddly shaped, and spotted brown. Inside, they're whitish with huge black seeds. The flesh, however, is the combination of mango/pineapple smell with an avocado/banana texture. The skin is pretty bitter. Chris mentioned that he's found plenty of paw paw skins left behind by wildlife. Again, I can't imagine that it gets much better than just tearing one open, squeezing out and slurping up the good parts, and then spitting out the seeds. We have enough fruits, though, that as they ripen I'm freezing them for a future paw paw pie.

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