The Paw Paw, a close relative of the Cherimoya, is the only member of a tropical family of trees called Annonaceae (a hot-tempered lot) that can survive outside of the tropics. Its flavor is a sweet threesome between a mango, a pineapple, and a banana.
The Paw Paw, sometimes called the “Poor Man’s Banana” is also intimately connected to America history. Thomas Jefferson was so hot for this wild fruit that as minister to France in 1786, he arranged for Paw Paw seeds to be shipped over to his friends abroad as samples of American’s extraordinary edible exotica. Renowned esplorers Lewis and Clark also paid homage to Paw Paws, even noting during one expedition log in 1806, that they had survived on foraged Paw Paws when other supplies were exhausted.
Although its aficionados across the US from Michigan to West Virginia have named their 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. Though Lagier’s maternal great-grand father started farming in California in the 1870’s, it wasn’t until 1999 that the first acre of Lagier’s Paw Paws were planted after being purchased via an exotic fruit buyer in San Francisco. Slow Food International inducted the Paw Paw to the US Ark of Taste in 2004.