It’s Pawpaw Season. So What Exactly Is a Pawpaw?

It's native to DC, and it tastse kind of like a banana.

Photo credit Matt Cohen

It’s pawpaw season in DC, so before it ends, you may as well figure out what the heck pawpaws are.

Pawpaws are among the few fruits native to the US. They’re found along the Atlantic coast, and as far west as Kansas and Michigan. Here in Washington, you can spot them in Rock Creek Park and along the Potomac River. Despite their decidedly non-tropical environs, they’re often compared to mangos and bananas. They’re green and usually between three and seven inches long.

You can learn all about them at the 6th Annual Long Creek Paw Paw Fest in Frederick this Saturday, or at the ongoing Montgomery County Pawpaw & Pollinators Festival, which has programming until the end of the month. Local forager Matt Cohen also leads pawpaw hunts (though the one scheduled for this weekend is already sold out).

If you want to find them on your own, look for pawpaw trees, which are normally between 12 to 25 feet tall. Cohen notes that the leaves smell like kerosene when crushed. If a pawpaw is ripe, it should fall off the tree with a gentle shake. “At that point, you’re ready to go,” Cohen says. “I just go ahead and eat the fruit straight.” He recommends peeling away the skin first.

You can also bake with pawpaws, make popsicles with them, and use them in ice cream and pancakes. They were one of George Washington’s favorite desserts—he even wrote about them in his diary.

Pawpaws had a lackluster 2020 season. But this year, Cohen says, “they’re back to normal and plentiful.”

Jason Fontelieu
Editorial Fellow