April 2021 | The Dystopic and Exceptional Pawpaw
The pawpaw is an incredible, temperate, semi-forgotten fruit. It’s existence is a real exception on many levels: it is the only member of a tropical genus to survive this far north in most of the continent; it is nutrient and protein rich beyond most fruit; and pawpaws are exceptionally fragile, pushing them outside of economic distribution. Their skin and flesh is much more easily bruised than that of a banana, making them basically impossible to ship and sell in stores.
In turn, this has left pawpaws substantially neglected by commercial and academic research, and most of the work to produce improved varieties has been left to grassroots breeders, sharing their results with each other via fruit growers clubs and informal networks. Jerry Lehman was a leading figure in this emergent process – a committed pawpaw and persimmon grower in Indiana’s Wabash Valley, who developed dozens of varieties, while pioneering new ways to process and enjoy these native fruits. Today, we highlight a lecture he gave at the Overlook, a DIY hub in here in Bloomington, Indiana. Jerry has since passed away, but his work is being continued by his friends and collaborators, including Mark Hildebrand who you will hear later on during this show.
Thanks to their work, and to the efforts of many others across the eastern US, there are now diverse options of excellent wild pawpaw stock and improved cultivars to grow. Nobody has succeeded in breeding a durable pawpaw- but perhaps this is a good thing. Instead of a commercial crop, the pawpaw can remain an abundant, seasonal fruit, contributing to wild richness and the riotous bounty of neighborhood food forests, available for common harvest.
In this episode, we are trying something new by collaborating with the excellent podcast, Propaganda by the Seed, hosted by Sole and Aaron in Maine. We start off with a conversation between folks from the two shows about pawpaws – how to grow them, what makes them unique, and their appealing (and not so appealing) characteristics. We also share an archived lecture given by Jerry Lehman prior to his passing.
Thank you to Mark Hildebrand, Jerry Lehman, Aaron and Sole for their contributions to this show, and to Lyn Rye for the music.
You can listen to Propaganda by the Seed here.
You can listen to Lyn Rye here.