I have had a lot of strange or I should say “unique” wine before but never wines made with papaw fruit. Now I am very curious… read on…
“It’s the ‘Midwestern tropical fruit,’ ” said Magdiale Wolmark, chef and co-owner of Dragonfly Neo-V Cuisine, a Short North restaurant.
“It’s known as the ‘Indiana banana,’ ” said Bob O’Neil of the Undercover Market in Athens.
“In the 1920s, papaw was called the ‘poor man’s banana,’ ” said Chris Chmiel, an Albany, Ohio, farmer and self-proclaimed eco-entrepreneur. “It’s North America’s largest native-tree fruit. It can weigh over a pound.”
Those who have tramped through the woods or even semirural areas in the East and Midwest have seen papaws on their spindly, foliage-challenged trees. The fruits, which ripen in late summer or early fall, look like elongated pears and grow in small clusters.
With the help of Chmiel and chefs, the fruit is finding a larger audience.
Others might have done more to establish the best practices in cultivating the fruit, such as Kirk Pomper at Kentucky State University, or to determine the plant’s efficacy as a medicine and food supplement, such as Jerry McLaughlin at Purdue University.
But only Chmiel has developed the Ohio Pawpaw Festival, to be held this weekend, its ninth year. And Chmiel has, with the help of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks at Ohio University, developed a line of products under the Integration Acres label that includes jam, salsa, chutney and ice pops, all with papaw pulp as the base.
On a recent Wednesday, whenever anyone would ask, he’d rattle off the varieties: papaw-raspberry, papaw-cherry, papaw-mango and papaw-blueberry-pomegranate.
“My mission is kind of like ‘papaws to the people,’ ” he said. “They’re good for you, and we can grow them organically.”
The increasing popularity of the papaw is, in part, because of Chmiel’s proselytizing. When Wolmark opened his restaurant on King Avenue in 2000, he told local farmers he wanted to buy their produce.
“They’re delicious ripe, in season,” Wolmark said. Their flavor is “unique: a very creamy texture that I think is more like a cherimoya, really custardy, with seeds randomly through the fruit. They can be a little difficult to peel and seed for that reason.”
In fact, the papaw is in the same family as the cherimoya and custard apple but is the only member of the family that grows outside the tropics.
Christine Hughes, who owns and operates the Village Bakery in Athens, describes the fruit as “very sweet, with a floral kind of smell.”
But Kelly Sauber prefers his papaws with a kick.
The “zymotechnologist” — or brewer — at Marietta Brewing Company uses papaws in an American-style wheat beer that has become so popular that it’s on tap at Casa Nueva restaurant in Athens.
Sauber describes the taste as “relatively clean, with a slight green-apple flavor, finishing with the papaw flavor.”
Similarly dry is the wine that Brian Neighbors of White Owl Winery in Birds, Ill., near Vincennes, Ind., makes out of papaws.
“The flavor is full of soft, luscious tropical notes, with the sweet taste of bananas, kiwi and papaya,” Neighbors said.
The wine has won several awards, including three from the Ohio Pawpaw Festival.
“Our forte is fruit wines,” he said, “and we produce a lot of them from domesticated fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and pears.
“But the real challenge is crafting a wine that is harvested in the wild, like the papaw or the persimmon. It takes a lot of time and effort to convince those fruits that they want to become wine, but the effort is worth it.”