Paw Paw Ice Cream Adventure!

PawPawsonTreeThe Paw Paw tree, Asimina triloba, is native to the southeastern United States and parts of the midwest, and while it can be cultivated out here, it is very rarely seen in the Pacific Northwest, and its fruit is rarer still. It is not commercially available, despite its popularity among wild food enthusiasts. So when local forager Dave Barmon invited me to gather some Paw Paw fruit with him this weekend, I happily agreed — and I had an idea: Why not turn them into Paw Paw ice cream? I’d been reading that little binder of recipe ideas that came with my  blender and I discovered I could make ice cream simply by combining fruit + ice + sugar + milk (dairy or otherwise), and that sounded pretty easy, pretty Becky-proof. If you’ve been reading my blog or my book then you know I’m not into cooking. But I can blend!

Dave thought it was a great idea. Paw Paws are also known as “custard apple,” “false banana,” and “Michigan banana” because of their flavor, and their fleshy texture is mango-like.

Photo by Dave Barmon

Photo by Dave Barmon

In Portland a lot of us have multiple occupations, and Dave is no exception. He owns a sustainable landscaping company called Fiddlehead Landscapes in addition to his work as a wild food activist, consultant, urban lumber advocate and all-around entrepreneur/visionary. It was this first capacity that led us to the Paw Paw trees — they happened to be living in the front yard of one of his landscaping clients, who had given the green-light on picking them. Actually, we didn’t so much pick the fruit as gather them; the Paw Paws were scattered across the grass. They were roughly the size and shape of a potato, and ranged in color and texture from hard and pale green (not yet ripe) to mushy and purple (over-ripe).

We stopped by an Asian grocery store in southeast Portland called Hong Phat on the way back and picked up some cans of coconut cream to use. It was there in the grocery aisle that Dave suggested an even more brilliant idea, from the efficiency (aka laziness) perspective: Why not just buy vanilla ice cream and blend the fruit with that? So we got some rice-milk vanilla ice cream and decided to try both recipes!

At Dave’s house, we sliced the Paw Paw fruit open and removed the seeds and the outer skin, collecting the mango-like flesh in a bowl. “Dave, we need some music!” I said.


Photo by Dave Barmon

“OK, I’m going to put on some Latin music, because Paw Paw is related to Cherimoya, a popular fruit that grows in the tropics and Latin America,” Dave said.

While we worked, Dave told me Paw Paws are good trees for people in rural or even suburban areas because birds and deer don’t like the fruit. But for us human animals they’re great — they’re the largest edible wild fruit indigenous to North America, and are one of the few wild fruits that are high in calories, minerals and amino acids.

According to Kentucky State University, PawPaws have as much potassium as bananas and one and a half more times calcium than oranges, plus “two to seven times as much phosphorus, four to twenty times as much magnesium, twenty to seventy times as much iron, five to twenty times as much zinc, five to twelve times as much copper, and sixteen to one hundred times as much manganese, as do banana, apple, or orange.”

Paw Paws are small trees found wild from east Texas and Florida to New Jersey and the Great Lakes, and west to Iowa. They have deep tap roots and grow in deep, rich, moist soil, such as river valleys, flood plains, and stream banks, according to forager-author and expert Steve Brill. (Caution: Steve writes that the seeds are poisonous, so make sure you don’t swallow them if you start eating ripe Paw Paw fruit off a tree).

And you’re considering installing a Paw Paw tree in your yard, you’ll want to know that they’re fly pollinated and that  getting fruit requires two trees in the vicinity of one another.


Photo by Dave Barmon

Now — back to the important part, the ice cream. We poured 1 can coconut cream with equal parts ice and Paw Paw flesh, plus 1/8 cup organic sugar, and it came out delicious! Here in the photo is Dave’s 5-year-old daughter, Ruby, a forager in her own right, demonstrating for you her reaction to the flavor: Ruby approved!

The lazier ice cream experiment, involving simply hitting the on button to mix vanilla rice ice cream and Paw Paws, was not so good, because the rice-milk version of vanilla ice cream was pretty icky. The coconut cream was much, much better. It did a great job of complementing the tropical flavor of the Paw Paw.

Other fun foodie things one could do with Paw Paws include banana bread and custard.

If you’re a person with a sensitive stomach, tread carefully. The unripe fruit is considered an emetic, and Steve wrote in his book “Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants” that he once tossed his cookies after eating some.

I’m happy to report that I have not!

What have you done with Paw Paws? And what are you foraging right now? Tell me in the comments!
– That TV show I’m on, “Brew Dogs,” airs tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 10 pm on Esquire Network. If you don’t have cable, or don’t have a friendly neighbor with TV who will let you take up residence on her couch, then you can  download it from iTunes after it airs. Just make sure to look for the “Portland” episode!

– Are you wondering what weedy or native wild foods are growing in your yard? Hire me to come over and tell you with a private yard assessment. I also do plant identification tours for private groups at the location of your choosing, and indoor presentations and keynote talks, too. E-mail me at RebeccaELerner[at] to inquire.


15 thoughts on “Paw Paw Ice Cream Adventure!

  1. Just wonderful! Thanks for the charming and informative article. We have two Pawpaw trees gracing our back yard, thanks to my husband Corey!
    We’ve always enjoyed them right off of the tree but I’m excited to make ice cream now!

  2. They sound delish, I’ll have to try. The ice cream sounds good to, ill try it using raw coconut ice cream. If you haven’t had it should check it out, can find it at People’s Food-Co Op

  3. I love paw paws, and am very luck to have 3 trees growing within a mile of my house in Pittsburgh. Being native to the United States, you’d think that it would be more popular in our cuisine. But of course, I find that most people have no idea what a paw paw even is!

    Haven’t tried the ice cream yet, but it’s on my radar (for next year!).

  4. Plumbers, children and ancient family line maledictions that fall upon one generation in a thousand years( my generation of course) did in my Paw Paw efforts. One plant arrived DOA, a mighty fine whacking stick. Even got a few past the first year, but my yard is a Paw Paw cemetery…That photo makes me jealous because its almost exactly what I pictured with the exception of it being on a large estate that also remains a weather beaten sapling. But there is mercy since I have a bumper crop of Viburnums ( Nannyberry and friends ) as compensation for a starchy fruit that I so happen to make into ice cream and with black walnut to boot. Paw Paw is just too good for me and who can blame it?

  5. Very nice post, Becky.
    We eat wild paw paws all the time in season. Here is what I wrote about them in a post back when they were in season in Indiana (which seems like ages ago):

    And this next photo is for Rhonda in Australia. These are our paw paws. They’re a northern relative in the papaya family. They’re best eaten like bananas. Everyone has their preferred ripeness and ripeness is very important to taste. I like mine about like this. My favorite part is a seed coat that you can peel off with your teeth. To open them you just give them a twist till they break then scoop out with your front teeth from the inside to the edge of the skin. You don’t eat the skin or the seeds. We eat as much as we can and freeze a bit to make a couple batches of paw paw bread substituting in the recipe with banana.

  6. I love pawpaws they grow well in southern Arkansas . We make preserves out of em . Jelly if Ur from the city . I loved Ur book miss Becky . Pawpaws also grow wild in Arkansas . Well its late thanks again for all the great stuff u share with us .

  7. Sadly, I doubt, Paw Paw will ever make it to market because it is one of the ugliest fruits. Within days of harvest it has brown and black spots forming on the skin. It’s not that the insides aren’t perfectly delicious, but, Americans are frail consumers. Not, to mention that the first bite/taste is never as good as the 3rd or 4th.

    Sadly, the 6 saplings that I tried to transplant this year died from frost already. :{ Luckily, my Farmers Market will have more in late summer.

  8. i had to laugh when i saw this article. the other day while driving with a friend, i surprisingly pointed out a pawpaw tree to my friend here in idaho and she said she’d never seen one before. so i started singing the song i learned when i was young back east: “picking up pawpaw’s putting them in your pocket…” she laughed. thanks for the post.

  9. Was surprised and a bit confused with calling the fruit pawpaw as in Australia and SE Asia the pawpaw is different. The fruit I know as pawpaw is often called papaya. :-)

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