It was just about a year ago I was first introduced to a strange, and what I initially thought to be exotic fruit. Just one bite of its delicious pulp and I knew it was something I had never before tasted. It was as if someone took a banana, a mango and a few berries and mashed them together into one amazing flavor combination. My first thought was that this had to come from some tropical destination thousands of miles away, but as I soon discovered the mysterious fruit (otherwise known as a pawpaw) was actually indigenous to Ohio and the one I sampled came from Integration Acres, only 88 miles southeast of Columbus.
If you grew up in Ohio and have never heard of a pawpaw, you are not alone. The founder of Integration Acres, Chris Chmiel, is determined to rectify this injustice by rescuing this fruit off the endangered species list and into your cart at the local market. Chris was born in a rural area of Indiana and after his family moved him to a more urban environment in Cincinnati, he longed to get back to the less populated, simpler way of life. He applied to Ohio University for his undergrad, designed his own major (Holistic Transition to Sustainability) and began focusing on how to live a more sustainable life. After traveling out West post graduation, he and his wife sought to settle back in Athens County, lured by the appealing sense of community and agricultural opportunities.
Shortly after moving back, Chris discovered the pawpaw tree and, after becoming tired of seeing its fruit rot on the ground, he knew that this was the perfect tool to educate people about biodiversity. He began researching the pawpaw, a tree that is native to 25 states east of the Mississippi, and spoke with The Kentucky State University Pawpaw Research Program. He discovered that in the early 1900’s the American Genetic Association had a competition for the best pawpaw and 5 out of the 10 best came from southern Ohio. Integration Acres was soon born. Today, the farm is comprised of two properties: the first is 32 acres where currently 75 goats are raised and delicious varieties of cheese such as chèvre, feta, smoky goat, cheddar, and gouda are produced. The second property, just a stones throw up the road, consists of 18 acres where the family’s home, the pawpaw orchard and around 15 acres of wild pawpaws reside.
At Integration Acres, part of their mission is to design energy efficient systems and focus on sustainable agriculture through silvopastoralism, or the practice of combining forestry, pastures and grazing animals in a mutually beneficial way. The goats do not disturb the pawpaw trees because of the natural pesticide inherent in the pawpaw. The bark contains powerful chemicals know as Annonaceous acetogenins which are potent compounds that are poisonous to most insect feeders and keep the goats at bay.
Because of the short shelf life of the pawpaw fruit (and likely the reason they are not at your local Kroger) Chris wanted to come up with several ways to process it. Integration Acres was able to take something that was rotting on the ground and turn it into a profitable business by hiring local women, affectionately dubbed the “desperate housewives”, to clean, peel and mash the pawpaw pulp in order for it to be frozen and sold year round. Other pawpaw products being produced by Integration Acres include pawpaw popsicles, chutney, jam and salad dressing.
After creating all of these appetizing pawpaw products, Chris became a self proclaimed “gorilla marketer” of the pawpaw. He even started the annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival which takes place mid September at Lake Snowden. What better way to introduce people to this delicious fruit than to create a fun and educational event centered around it. All of the food and beverages (even beer) for sale at the festival must contain the secret ingredient: pawpaws. At the festival you will find a cornucopia of everything pawpaw along with activities such as the Pawpaw Cook-off, Pawpaw Eating Contest and Best Pawpaw Competition. This year, I was lucky enough to be asked to be a judge in the Best Pawpaw Competition and I did not take this opportunity lightly. I judged each pawpaw keeping in mind several categories including appearance, aroma, flavor, and texture. After sampling around 20 pawpaws, a winner was declared and I rewarded myself with a pawpaw beer!
Since 1996, Chris’s mission to bring “Pawpaws to the People” is one he passionately shares. With the Pawpaw Festival going on its 13th year and awareness being spread like wildfire, pawpaws are soon to be the sought after fruit in Ohio.
The pawpaws pictured traveled 88 miles to Columbus. Not one fruit alone can be compared to the pawpaw, but it tastes like a combination of several tropical varieties grown thousands of miles from Columbus.
The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to the United States. Pawpaw trees shaded deep in the forest do not produce fruit, while the trees exposed to ample sunlight produce a generous amount of this custard-like textured treat. There are several varieties of pawpaws and a lot of genetic diversity and difference in flavor between them. The fruit grows in clusters and contains numerous flat black seeds. The peak of its harvesting season is August-October.
The nutritional aspects of a pawpaw are immense. It is high in niacin, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, protein, potassium, vitamin C, phosphorus and it contains all of the essential amino acids. Not to mention, there are more antioxidants in ½ a pawpaw than a whole apple or pear! In addition, ongoing studies have confirmed the benefits of the pawpaw in clinical cancer treatments and its use to prevent the growth of cancer cells. You can purchase your pawpaw products directly from Integration Acres or in Columbus at Katzinger's Delicatessen, Hills Market and many other locations to start reaping the benefits of the power of the pawpaw!
ReferencesKYSU Pawpaw Research Program
Pawpaw and Raspberry Smoothie
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen Integration Acres pawpaw pulp
- 1/3 cup fresh raspberries
- 3/4 cup low-fat milk
- 1/2 cup fat free vanilla yogurt
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon ground flax seed
- 3-5 ice cubes
- Mix all of the ingredients in a blender until smooth
- Makes 2 (12oz.) smoothies