Mike Gorski was digging around, shaking trees and snatching up valuable fruit one calm and sunny Friday afternoon down on the Buttermilk trail, just downhill from Riverside Drive.
He was seeking pawpaws, a “rare woodland delicacy” which were in season and free for the taking among the hardwoods on the steep, rocky hills of this popular trail.
I was seeking peace and quiet, and a chance to take a walk on the best mountain bike trail in the Richmond area — The Buttermilk. I had done some volunteer work and multimedia stories on the construction and reworking of this area of the trails, and wanted to see how it was holding up.
Gorski struck up conversation, and showed me a handful of pawpaws he was picking. I didn’t try one at the time, but he described the taste — something of a cross between a banana and a mango.
I told him that this year has been a revelation for me, stepping back in time to when I was a kid and was surrounded by so many family members that were farmers — or at least knew something about the natural world around them. Shopping at farmer’s markets and eating whatever we want. Apples that you can’t get in grocery stores because they are too ugly, big, small, funny-colored, etc. Eating pears out of my Uncle Mike’s backyard tree and even grilling them to see what it would taste like. Good times.
Anyway, since I was loaded with a camera, I figured I should do more than pretend I’m a journalist, and pursued the story.
I did a search for paw paws to confirm much of what Gorski told me, especially the nugget he mentioned about George Washington enjoying chilled pawpaws:
History also tells us that pawpaws were well known to our founding fathers. It’s documented that George Washington was fond of pawpaw fruit, and pawpaws were among the many plants Thomas Jefferson cultivated at his beloved Monticello.
And checking the science behind the regional fruit:
Origin: The pawpaw is native to the temperate woodlands of the eastern U.S. The American Indian is credited with spreading the pawpaw across the eastern U.S. to eastern Kansas and Texas, and from the Great Lakes almost to the Gulf.
Fruit:The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to America. Individual fruits weigh 5 to 16 ounces and are 3 to 6 inches in length. The larger sizes will appear plump, similar to the mango. The fruit usually has 10 to 14 seeds in two rows….Pawpaw fruit ripens during a four-week period between mid August and into October.
For my producer job at NBC12, I will have to be satisfied to live vicariously through reporters (especially Andrew Freiden) that do my kind of stories (outdoors & nature). You can see Andrew’s report at NBC12.com.