One Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I found myself tromping through the woods along the Patuxent River, outside Bowie, Maryland (pronounced BOO-ey, I learned) with a group of friends, heads all turned up towards the sky. We were hunting pawpaw, and they were proving themselves a little scarce. Though we came across many trees with their large banana-like leaves, few seemed to be bearing fruit, and it suspiciously seemed that someone else had been tipped off to our usually plentiful foraging spot.
Before this excursion I don't think I'd ever had a pawpaw, even though I grew up in "Michiana" where there is even a whole town named after the fruit. When my friend Joseph found a pawpaw patch at a fiddlers' convention last month, he too was surprised I'd never eaten one, as he called them, "the Indiana banana." I've heard the wild fruit described in different ways--some say it is is the non-tropical papaya, (though Wikipedia suggests that they are only alike in name, not species, and the paw paw is, in fact, tropical), some say it tastes like a mango, banana, or avocado. All of these made sense--I found the texture similar to the latter, and the flavor like a more floral mango. The pawpaw is the kind of wild fruit, like mulberries or persimmons, that you can't really find at a grocery store--you just have to go find for yourself (though NPR has this wonderful story on a plant scientist who is trying to change that).
Paw Paw Pie
Filling Adapted from a Kentucky State University recipe
Nothing in the House pie crust, halved, or for cookie crust:
1 1/4 cup gingersnap crumbs
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 egg yolks, beaten (reserve whites for meringue)
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup paw paw pulp, puréed
3 egg whites (reserved from filling)
3 Tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar
For cookie crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put gingersnaps in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until crackers are finely ground into crumbs. Add sugar and melted butter and pulse until well mixed.
2. Pat the buttery crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing mixture into the bottom and sides to form a pie crust. Place in oven and bake until crust is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before adding the filling.
For filling and meringue:
1. Combine 3/4 sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add the beaten egg yolks, milk, and cream. Whisk until well combined and the add the puréed paw paw pulp. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Once thickened (about 10 minutes), remove from heat and let cool. When at room temperature, place plastic wrap over the surface of the paw paw curd and refrigerate while you make the meringue.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat egg whites with 3 Tblsp. sugar, salt, and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Pour the curd into the crust and spoon the meringue on top, curling it decoratively with the back of a spoon. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes until meringue has browned. serve chilled or at room temperature.