ST. LOUIS – ‘Tis the season for Hillbilly Mangos. The Midwest boasts its unique fruit, known as the “Paw Paw” or the Hillbilly mango.
These fruits are in season from September to October. Pawpaws offer a blend of banana and mango flavors with a custard-like texture. They are typically found near rivers and streams, most commonly along the Mississippi River.
Pawpaw plants resemble small shrubs or trees, belonging to the tropical plant family. Their large leaves cluster near the branch tips, giving them an umbrella-like appearance. These plants can reach a height of up to 30 feet. In deep shade, they form thickets and rarely flower or bear fruit unless the canopy opens. When their leaves are crushed, they emit a bell pepper-like odor.
Native Americans have a long history of using these fruits. They often cultivated pawpaw trees to ensure a reliable food source in the fall. For instance, the Cherokee utilized the inner bark to craft ropes and strings, while Louisiana tribes wove the inner bark into cloth.
The first documented reference to pawpaws can be traced back to Hernando de Soto‘s 1541 expedition in the Mississippi River Valley. Lewis and Clark also made note of consuming this fruit during their historic journey. Early European settlers, eager to make use of pawpaws, experimented with creating preserves and custards. However, they discovered that cooking the fruit altered its flavor.
While collecting pawpaws for personal use is legal in most areas, it is not allowed in nature centers, conservation offices, or natural preserves.