Pat came across some pawpaws on a recent fishing trip and brought them home for me to experiment with. For the uninitiated, pawpaws are a native fruit not typically found in the grocery store or even at farmer’s markets. They tend to fall off the tree when they are fully ripe, which happens to coincide with them being incredibly delicate. This delicateness is a large part as to why they aren’t well known – they don’t travel well and need to be eaten almost immediately while giving off an aroma that permeates the surrounding area. They smell like they taste, tropical and yeasty – think a slightly fermented mango-banana mix. They aren’t much to look at – shades of green and black. Peel the skin off to find pulpy, soft flesh littered with large seeds, that require some work to get to the fruit. A 3″ pawpaw produces a surprisingly small amount of pulp. It takes a number of fruits to be able to make something with them, so if you come across some, grab more than you think you’ll need. They can be eaten raw, but they bake well too, especially when paired with dairy.
I’ve experimented with pawpaws over the years, although I always have to sort of dig to find a recipe. You’d think that with all the cookbooks I have, especially the vintage ones, there’d be more than one pawpaw recipe collectively among them, but alas, there is not. I made a custard in a previous year (last year maybe?) that was so good, I wrote it down on a post -it and stuck it in a jar I keep in my cookbook cabinet, with hair ties, chapstick and other post-it written recipes I want to remember. That meant when Pat presented me with the pawpaws and Edie requested I make that custard again, I knew exactly where the recipe was. You may question writing recipes on post-it notes and sticking them in a jar, but hey, it works.
Depsite baking it longer than I had noted on my trusty post-it, my custard never quite set. I finally pulled it out of the oven, hoped it was close enough to set upon cooling. No such luck. At first I wondered if it was because I’d used duck eggs from our friend William (they can throw the moisture content off) or if I’d written something down wrong. I couldn’t remember where the recipe came from, so I couldn’t easily pull up the original to see where I went astray. As luck would have it, the following day, Pat sent me a link to Kentucky State University Extension site that had a plethora of pawpaw recipes. I immediately recognized it as the source of my recipe in question. It would seem I forgot to note the custard was to be baked in ramekins, not a big pan. Thankfully, it was still incredibly edible and we polished it off in no time.
The lovely illustrations in this post are by our friend Betty Gatewood, who is a fantastically talented artist. She had recently posted these and kindly agreed to let me use them in this post in lieu of my underwhelming pawpaw custard images. Pawpaw custard may taste fantastic, but it photographs sort of blah, especially when it’s not entirely set. Thank you Betty, for the pretty pictures (To see more of Betty’s work, click on her name and it will take you to her website.). And should you happen to come across some pawpaws, make the custard. It’s divine.