By Allston McCrady
Never heard of a pawpaw? Neither had Chef Anthony Lamas when he first moved from California to Louisville, Kentucky to launch his highly acclaimed restaurant Seviche. “Pawpaw” sounds more like an Appalachian nickname for a beloved grandfather (as in “Let me introduce you to my Mawmaw and my Pawpaw”) than a fruit. But fruit it is – the largest edible native tree fruit in North America. And it thrives in Kentucky. Historically, it helped Lewis & Clark get through some rough patches, and it was savored by Thomas Jefferson as a dessert.
For Lamas, the discovery of the pawpaw was love at first taste. I caught up with him recently by phone after seeing his Facebook post about canning pawpaws.
TLP: So you’ve been canning pawpaws all weekend?
AL: My staff thinks I’m crazy. The pawpaw is only available for about two weeks every year, so you’ve got to make the most of that window. We canned over 320 pounds of it.
TLP: How would you describe a pawpaw’s taste?
AL: It’s like a custard apple. It belongs to the same tree family as the “Kentucky Banana” and has a banana pineapple flavor, and a silky texture like a ripe mango. The flavor is incredible.
TLP: When did you first discover the pawpaw?
AL: I had never heard about ‘em. I have Latino roots, grew up in California, met a Kentucky girl and moved here. When I tried a pawpaw, I thought, how could I not have known there is a native tropical fruit in North America? Where in the hell have these been all my life? I’m like in love with them right now.
TLP: Where do you get your pawpaws?
AL: I met a farmer a while back who gives me other fresh produce, and he happens to have two pawpaw trees on his property. He gives me all of them!
TLP: How are you planning to cook with pawpaws this year?
AL: We use them in flan. We serve halibut with a pawpaw habanero beurre blanc wrapped in country ham and served over Carolina Gold rice. And people love our pawpaw ice cream—a dulce de leche garnished with bourbon-spiked pecans. It’s amazing.