Ecofeminism, Subsistence Living & Nature Awareness

September 15, 2010

Pawpaws for Social Change?

Filed under: Global Warming,Homestead cooking,Paula Mariedaughter,Subsistence Living — Paula Mariedaughter @ 7:46 am

For thirty years I have been studying what makes people change our beliefs and our habits. I embarked on this journey in the early 1970s when I enthusiastically embraced the revolutionary ideas of the Women’s Liberation Movement. My experiences as a girl growing up in the 1950s in the segregated south, then as a young woman attending college in the 1960s and working as a flight attendant and union activist all made clear to me that the prescription for girls and women in our society were not in my best interest! The human institutions of patriarchy and capitalism surrounded me and influenced my personal behavior and most of my “personal” decisions.


Young volunteer pawpaw trees growing near the pioneer Mahaffey fireplace from the 1890s located behind our house.

Other women in the Women’s Liberation Movement had named this reality and coined this potent phrase, “The personal is political and the political is personal.” We understand that each of our individual daily choices adds up to the whole. For example, when I was disturbed by the on-screen violence in movies, I realized that each time I bought a ticket to see a violent movie I was “voting” for more violent movies with the purchase of that ticket. My individual actions have not lessened the number of violent movies, but when hundreds of us change our choices and behaviors, change will happen. My personal choice is a political action.

For the last two weeks Jeanne and I have been eating pawpaws as the fruit in our oatmeal breakfasts. Many mornings we cut up apples to add to our breakfast bowls. However, the only apples available this month in our local coop, Ozark Natural Foods, are flown in from New Zealand or Australia. In the past we did not have access to this information. Last summer we were eating apples airlifted to the US. Global warming activists and local food activists have encouraged stores to label the sources of their food.


Our pawpaw grove adjoins our back yard on the west and helps keep the yard a shady spot. Pawpaws thrive in rich moist soil as understory trees in hardwood forests from New York south to northern Florida and west to the south eastern part of Nebraska.

Supplied with this new information, I can choose other fruits or choose dried apples or go without. With pawpaws ripening in our back yard and dropping their edible fruit everyday, we had a perfect alternative! Free, local and tasty! Sometimes called the “false-banana” it is quite sweet and has a texture similar to a very ripe banana. Yet, we have lived here at Cedar Hill for twenty-two years and I have resisted eating this delicious fruit.

In examining my own resistance to eating pawpaws, I believe we can learn something about how people change and make new choices. I resisted pawpaws because:
I did not grow up eating pawpaws,
I was unfamiliar with pawpaws, no one I knew ate pawpaws,
the fruit looked unattractive to me,
the fruit was messy to eat with large seeds inside,
the fruit did not come from my refrigerator,
I believed that food needed to come from the store to be safe,
I believed it did not matter that I bought apples at the store grown far away.

Global warming is affecting us all. I believe I can make changes in my daily life that will impact the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. We can all make personal choices that have political consequences. I am not willing to be silenced by those who tell me to wait for the politicians or the technocrats or the right technology to fix global warming. We, the people, will change the world.


Pawpaw fruit varies in size. Perfect fruit on far left. Pawpaw fruit on far right is over ripe and inedible when this dark. Red dogwood berries found on the ground near the pawpaws.


Two green, almost ripe, pawpaws cluster in the tall branches twenty feet above the ground. Sometimes we can hear the heavy fruit fall to the ground from a light breeze.

Those who stand to profit from our unthinking consumption of water, electricity, gasoline, air conditioning, food-flown-in-from-afar, do not want us to rethink our consumption patterns. They see communities as “markets” and people as “focus groups” and, especially, we are seen as “consumers”. No longer are we citizens who use our critical thinking skills to make informed choices. The corporations and their spokespeople expect us to respond to their marketing strategies and consume whatever they are “pushing” today.

Corporations are not marketing pawpaws. Ripe pawpaws are delicate. The flesh is soft and mushy—they would not ship well. When pawpaws ripen they drop from the trees and are often bruised by the fall. Without a strong protective skin like apples or oranges, pawpaws must be eaten within days of ripening. Edible and delicious, the texture and color recall a ripe mango. The flavor is often described as similar to custard.

Once Jeanne started collecting and eating pawpaws, I had a model to follow. Someone I knew was eating this new fruit and enjoying it. I had tasted it, but was not ready yet to eat them. When I shopped for apples, my conscience would not allow me to buy an airlifted apple. Then one morning before breakfast, I walked by an intact, ripe, pale green fruit laying on the ground. “Perhaps I should try a pawpaw once again,” I thought to myself. It seemed a gift from the forest.

I still resisted because I did not know how to successfully peel the skin away and harvest the edible pulp. But now I was motivated to try. I sliced off the top and used a potato peeler to remove the skin and a paring knife to slice the flesh form the seeds. It did not take much longer than cutting up an apple, but it was messier. Apples were not yet available, and these pawpaws were readily available. I enjoyed my breakfast that morning. I’ve enjoyed knowing that I have eaten from my own environment and have not consumed additional carbon with my oatmeal breakfast imported from Canada.

My observation has been that people change when it is in their self-interest to change. I wanted fruit with my breakfast. I did not want to eat apples flown in from the southern hemisphere because of the environmental consequences involved in that transport. I had a sweet tasting fruit literally fall at my feet. Couldn’t I just pick it up and try it? This would benefit me and benefit the planet. If no one shopping at the coop bought apples from the southern hemisphere this fall, next fall the coop would not order them. When we expect food out-of-season, we encourage long haul transport of our food. Eating food from local sources and eating foods in season will provide us with more nutritious foods, will encourage local farmers and reduce carbon emissions of transportation.


Foggy fall morning looking east toward our main garden. The pawpaw grove is adjacent and to the west of our back yard, that is, behind me as I took this picture.

Pawpaws are an understory tree of hardwood forests and thrive in moist soils. Height to thirty feet, with straight trunks and spreading branches and long leaves, pawpaws have interesting reddish brown flowers in early spring. Pawpaws will form colonies from root sprouts. Wildlife including opossums, squirrels, raccoons, birds, and coyotes enjoy harvesting the windfall fruit. The range of pawpaws is widespread: from southern Ontario and western New York, south to northwest Florida, west to east Texas and north to southeast Nebraska. Pawpaws can also be used for cordage as the earliest inhabitants of the Ozarks did! Jeanne has experimented with peeling the inner bark to twist the fibers together to be used as string or twine. Since hundreds of pawpaws grow together in large colonies, some of the saplings can be harvested year round for cordage.

Thinking about the consequences of our individual actions is one way to reclaim our power and to acknowledge our responsibilities as responsible citizens of our planet. Considering the individual, daily changes we can accomplish to benefit the planet is an ongoing process for all of us. If any one wants pawpaw seeds, please let me hear from you. I will mail you seeds to plant this fall. Once established, the pawpaw is carefree tree. In ten years, you can harvest your own “false-banana”.


  1. Awwe… this is exactly what I imagined your place would look like dear women. Ozark paradise. Love it.

    Comment by Gladys — September 15, 2010 @ 9:34 am

  2. Interesting and good info. I’ve never seen nor eaten one personally. They sound good though. Perhaps you could show some pictures of what they look like after the prep – or how you do it. Maybe what it looks like with your oatmeal. Just a thought.
    You and Jeanne live the most carbon free life of anyone I know. This old hippy is proud of you. Keep on doing it sister.
    I like the pics of your homestead.

    Comment by lea donovan — September 28, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

  3. PAWPAWS: Paula and Jeanne: You can make exquisite jelly for bagels using pawpaws. Just follow the directions on Suregell packages. Remove the skins, which will turn the jelly brown instead of golden.
    I only got one pawpaw this year, but I have collected enough for 32 pints of jelly. The bears eat them and have taught me to share. They usually get all of my hazelnuts and pawpaws and pears, but lately, I have been finding a few left — for me, I think, or maybe, I am imagining things. However, I think that wild animals do share, even with other species.
    Keep an open mind, not just about ugh, those banana pawpaws, but bears. The sweetest mother you’ll ever see is a mother bear.
    from Greta in Kentucky

    Comment by Greta — October 1, 2010 @ 8:39 am

  4. FYI…Pawpaws also make excellent margaritas. With such a beautiful backyard, you may consider making yourself some of these delightful drinks in the heat of the summer. Very refreshing!

    Comment by Kim — October 26, 2010 @ 10:08 am

  5. Hiya, I’m really glad I have found this information. Today bloggers publish only about gossips and web and this is really annoying. A good blog with interesting content, that’s what I need. Thank you for keeping this website, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Cant find it.

    Comment by — January 11, 2012 @ 10:27 am

  6. My wife and I just found several pawpaw trees across our driveway today, this is the first time we have seen them in bloom, we have been trying to get a grove started for a few years now without much success, we think the bears did a better job of planting them than we have since there was a very large pile of scat there around ten years ago. We would love to have some seeds from your stock if that is possible.
    Thanks, Vance

    Comment by Deb & Vance Quesinberry — April 29, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

  7. I used your image guide on my first batch of pawpaws (var Prolific) to tell ripeness and I’m afraid it isn’t accurate for this variety. I’m sure they vary a lot, but it’s worth noting for others that some pawpaws may not color the same. In my case, I opened a pawpaw that was just starting to darken (second from far right in picture) and it was just barely ripe and still too firm on the lightest side to remove the skin. The seeds were also in very firm flesh so i lost a lot of it (you do NOT want to damage a seed as it will release chemicals to make you barf). I’d say it could have done with another few days and I suspect would be totally dark by then. I’ve also heard of varieties that turn yellow when ripe, as an additional stage before the darkening. I think perhaps we need a better way to tell ripeness. I was thinking scent since this is a mammal fruit. Mine started smelling good as soon as they dropped from the tree, but the intensity and composition has changed a lot they have become much more floral/apple, but I think they may go even further in the next few days. Then I remember that some pawpaw fruit does not smell super awesome and more icky… this has left me scratching my head. Do you think firmness might be the key? It seems like if you can cut a hole in the skin and squeeze out the fruit (thus avoiding damaging the seeds) that would be ideal and I think I have heard reference to eating them this way (though I did not understand until opening one for myself).

    Anyhow, for those wondering, in the case of var Prolific, the smell is of tropical fruits(kiwi,mango,papaya and pineapple) and apples, the flavor is seriously vanilla pudding plus creme brulee like browning sugar flavors and a hint of “orange colored flesh fruit”… not oranges but that slight background flavor that pumpkin, carrots, and sweet potatoes share, even though the flesh is not orange in this variety.

    I got 7 seeds out of this guy so you can bet they are getting planted to expand the pool 🙂

    Comment by Darcie — October 22, 2014 @ 4:05 am

  8. Hi Paula,

    I loved this post on pawpaw’s. Your entire blog (both this one and the one are full of interesting things.

    Comment by Madison Woods — June 12, 2016 @ 4:39 am

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