The Paw Paw, a relative of the Cherimoya, is the only temperate member of a diverse tropical family of trees with a flavor that resembles a fusion between a mango, a pineapple, and a banana. It is the only member of the family Annonaceae that can survive outside of the tropics.
The Paw Paw, or the “Poor Man’s Banana” as it is sometimes called, is intimately connected to America history. Thomas Jefferson was an avid fan of the wild fruit and as minister to France in 1786, arranged for Paw Paw seeds to be shipped to friends abroad as samples of American’s edible exotica. Explorers Lewis and Clark paid homage to Paw Paws, noting during one expedition log in 1806, that they relied on the wild fruit to survive when supplies ran low.
Though aficionados from Michigan to West Virginia have named towns and lakes after the Paw Paw the fruit remains rarely commercialized. In California, Paw Paws were first cultivated commercially by John Lagier, a longtime certified organic farmer whose maternal great-grand father started farming in California in the 1870’s. It wasn’t until 1999 that the first acre of Paw Paws was planted on his land, after being purchased through an exotic fruit buyer in San Francisco. Slow Food International inducted the pawpaw to the US Ark of Taste in 2004.