Kentucky pioneer cooks were by nature resourceful women who utilized what they found growing around them — hickory nuts and walnuts, berries of all varieties and those green fruits we now know as paw paws.
A conversation about paw paws came up recently with my nephew, Steven Dearborn, and his wife Beverly. Both said they had never tasted one and weren’t even sure they had seen one.
Enter Cathy Thomas, veteran waitress at the Frankfort Country Club, and my neighbor.
Thomas has one of the prettiest, neatest garden plots around. No wonder she is so slim and trim; she’s always working. Over the years she has shared vegetables with me, especially beets which she knows I love.
While having dinner last week with some friends at FCC, the subject of paw paws came up.
Wonder of wonders, Thomas has a tree. Of course she does, she grows everything else.
Friday afternoon on her way to work, Thomas rang my doorbell and handed me a bag of paw paws.
“There are plenty more if you want them,” she said, adding she wasn’t truly fond of them because to her they taste like very ripe bananas.
The Dearborns wandered into my kitchen Sunday, along with Martha Whalen, who brought me beautiful fresh pears and a jar of her pear preserves. I gave her a few paw paw cookies.
Steven and Beverly, after tasting a paw paw, decided it is a cross between a ripe banana and a mango. Polly Coblin agrees. Thomas had given her aunt Billie Mac Hoge a bag — they are neighbors.
Most of the ingredients needed are in your kitchen to create delicious treats from this somewhat tropical fruit grown in Kentucky. I opted for Paw Paw-Black Walnut Cookies and Paw Paw Bread. Since I love banana bread, which utilizes ripe bananas, I thought the paw paws would be perfect.
Off to the Internet I went searching for recipes. I didn’t have to go very far. Everything you want to know about paw paws is available right here in Frankfort at Kentucky State University.
KSU has the only full-time paw paw research program in the world as part of the KSU Land Grant Program.
I didn’t have enough to make the bread, but if it is as good as the cookie, I am excited to make it when I return to Thomas’ yard to pick up more paw paws.
I took Thomas a few cookies to taste to see if they changed her mind. The verdict is still out. But the Dearborns loved the cookies and they went home with a bag.
Opening a paw paw
The fruit has a skin much like a mango, but unlike a mango it does not have one large seed; it could have 10 about an inch in size. Cut the paw paw like you would an avocado. Twist to open. Large black seeds will be found in each half. Remove the seeds and then scrape the pulp from the paw paw.
Paw paw cookies
with black walnuts
These are soft cookies. Even cooking them the full 15 minutes, they still remain soft. Now having made two batches of these cookies, I would add two tablespoons more of brown sugar. You also don’t have to puree the pulp. If the paw paw is ripe, just mashing it with a fork is enough.
I used black walnuts, but if you are not a fan you can easily use English walnuts or pecans.
¾ c. pureed pawpaw pulp
1 c. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ c. butter
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. black walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease one large cookie sheet.
Peel and seed fresh paw paws and process in a food processor until fine. Sift together the flour and baking powder, and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg. Add the flour mixture and then add the paw paw pulp. Chop half the nuts and blend them in. Add the remaining nuts to the top of the cookie.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet and press a piece of black walnut onto the top of each cookie. Bake 12 minutes or until brown across the top. Makes about 16 cookies.
Paw paw bread
1 c. melted butter
2 c. sugar
2 c. pawpaw pulp
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
4 c. sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3 c. pecan pieces plus 16 pecan halves
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two 9x4x2-inch loaf pans.
Beat together butter, sugar and eggs. Add and beat in the paw paw pulp and lemon juice.
Sift the flour and baking powder together, and stir them into the batter. Stir in the pecans and scrape the batter into the loaf pans.
Garnish each loaf with 8 pecan halves, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The top corners of the loaf will burn, but that adds flavor and character.
Note: I’m sure I’ll cut that baking time. I don’t want the bread to be dry nor do I want it to burn.