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A Coming-Out Party For The Humble Pawpaw, Native Fruit Darling

A pawpaw ripe for the picking

If you’ve never tasted a pawpaw, now is the moment.

For just a few weeks every year, this native, mango-like fruit falls from trees, everywhere from Virginia to Kansas and many points westward. (We discovered them several years back along the banks of the Potomac River when we ran into some kayakers who were snacking on them.)

Remember the old folk tune “Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch?” In parts of the country, there’s no food more local and traditional.

But you still won’t find pawpaws in the supermarket. They’re fragile, and they go from under-ripe to overripe very quickly, so they’d be a challenge for the fruit supply chain to manage.

But Chris Chmiel is trying to change all that. He’s the founder of Integration Acres, an actual pawpaw orchard near Athens, Ohio. Its motto? “Raising consciousness with cuisine.”

Chmiel wants people to appreciate and consume this humble fruit. So he’s promoting it at farmers’ markets and processing pawpaws into pulp that can be used in smoothies, baked goods and even beer.

He also helped organize the Ohio Pawpaw Festival, set for September 14-16, which will celebrate this fruit with everything from pawpaw-infused beer to baked goods.

We sat down with Chmiel to talk about why he’s devoted his life to promoting the pawpaw.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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