I went searching for pawpaws the other day and it turned out to be a magical hike. The lesson I learnt was: when foraging for pawpaws, use your eyes, nose and ears.
The first half mile or so, I found the trees but not a single fruit. I looked up; none on the branches. Down… and none on the ground. Not all pawpaw trees bear fruit so maybe that was a dry patch. I walked past this patch of pawpaws, looking and looking for the fruit and not seeing any. And suddenly, I heard a little soft thud behind me, like the tree was beckoning me. I stopped and turned around and walked closer to the tree. And then a fruit fell right in front of me!!!
As I stood there, I experienced this vague cognitive dissonance. I try not to be teleologic in my world view. It is when we take this very human-centric perspective and attribute agency and purpose to nature, from inanimate objects like pebbles, to impersonal beings like trees, to the stars and planets. They are all out there for us… that’s the teleologic fallacy and is ingrained in humans! I’m wary of that. But at that moment, with the setting sunlight filtering through the leaves, with just me and the trees, and this growing awareness of a sweet aroma permeating the air, I let myself succumb to that magic moment. The tree was “giving me” this fruit to taste. And I was thankful. I picked it up and knew it was going to be good. And then I found a second fruit!
The rest of the hike, I paid attention to the smell of overripe squished pawpaws, the soft sound of falling fruits, and continued to look up and down. And it turned out to be a successful evening of foraging (ended up with 7 pawpaws!). And it was a good time of communion with the trees and the critters, and possibly, the poison ivy (I’m still waiting for the rash… so far, none).
So the tips are:
- Use your ears, nose and eyes. Simply relying on sight is tricky as the fruits blend in nicely with the foliage.
- Be an opportunistic forager. Go for the low hanging fruits. And fallen fruits are wonderful gifts from the trees so pick them up (that is, as long as they are freshly fallen and not rotted or half eaten). And don’t worry… there will be plenty more for our critter friends.
- The pawpaw tree is delicate and brittle, so be gentle when plucking directly from the branches. Leave the high fruits alone as attempts to get them might cause the branches to break. At most, give a gentle shake and see if they drop. If not, move on.
- Again, even for the low hanging ones, be a gentle forager and don’t yank the fruits hard. If the fruit is hard to pluck, it means it is not yet ready. The ones that are ripe should almost fall into your palm.
- Avoid eating fruits that are not soft when you press on it. When not perfectly ripe, a pawpaw tastes horrible… at least to me it did… I speak from experience! Like eating soap and tongue felt fuzzy for a minute… like I licked my dryer lint filter.
- Watch out for the poison ivy!!
And now… the pawpaw patch dance.
[please excuse typos and errors; not proofread and author makes lots of typos]