Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Papaya By Any Other Name

I tried to get Paw Paw Bill as my e-mail address with BellSouth, but it was already taken. Bill is a common enough name in the part of the world where English is the mother tongue, and I guess I’m not the only cornpone grandfather who answers to Paw Paw. I typed Paw Paw Bill in my computer browser to see what I would come up with. In addition to my own blog, there was an article from the Enquirer, the daily newspaper in Cincinnati, not the tabloid in the supermarket. Legislation had been introduced in Ohio to designate the pawpaw as the official state fruit. This pawpaw bill was backed by Jimmy Stewart of Athens. You would think new and different names would be easy to come up with and would cut down on confusion. There must be a lot of people named Jimmy Stewart, towns named Athens, and I’m not the only Paw Paw Bill.

The pawpaw is the largest edible tree fruit native to North America and grows in at least 25 states, from the Mississippi to Appalachia. Individual fruits weigh 5 to 16 ounces and are 3 to 6 inches in length. They grow in bunches like bananas and are soft and thin skinned when ripe. Although pawpaw is delicious and nutritious, it has never been as popular as apples, pears, peaches, oranges, or tangerines, because it does not store or ship well. Its creamy taste is described as resembling a mixture of a banana with sweet mango and pineapple. It has more protein and carbohydrates than most other fruits and contains high levels of amino acids, vitamins A and C, and many minerals, according to fruit experts.

In recent years the pawpaw has attracted interest in the organic farming community in the United States as a native fruit which has few pests. The pulp is used primarily in baked dessert recipes, as well as for brewing pawpaw beer. According to reports in The Enquirer, the one in the grocery store checkout line, Elvis has been sighted in Tupelo, Miss., working at the 7/11 and eating peanut butter and pawpaw sandwiches. Grandmothers throughout Georgia and Alabama are legendary for favorite recipes, guarded as family secrets, for maw maw’s pawpaw pie.

The Spanish explorer de Soto, wandering around the Southeast looking for the Fountain of Youth, discovered the pawpaw instead and thought it a version of papaya. Thus came the name pawpaw from the word papaya. George Washington chilled pawpaw in the springhouse and enjoyed it for dessert, and Thomas Jefferson grew it at Monticello. In the Midwest, the pawpaw is known as the Hoosier banana, which would make it the Indiana banana. It is also sometimes called the poor man’s banana. How poor do you have to be to go shopping for a cut-rate banana?

Scientists at Purdue University, awarded several million dollars of public research funds over the years, have investigated pawpaw for its potent anti-cancer effects. Other medicinal uses have been for scarlet fever and red rashes. Native Americans dried and crushed pawpaw seeds and dusted the powder in children's hair to control lice, and this is the chemical basis of today’s lice treatment shampoo products available at neighborhoood drugstores.

Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter

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