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The first taste of paw paws, a gardener's surprise

Written by Doug Oster on .

After speaking to the Sewickley Village Garden Club, I was dying to see Heather Saftner's garden. The large, formal landscape was designed by Ellen Biddel Shipman, who was a famous garden designer of the day. Heather wants the space to be a gathering place for her family. She shares the home with her husband and six children.

Heather and her husband Clay are slowly restoring the garden and as we approached the main entrance I was shocked to see two paw paw trees flanking the main stairway. "What are they," Heather said after seeing my excitement. As I reached up to gently squeeze the ripening fruit, I yelled out, 'they're paw paws."

Her four old son Cale was with us and helped carry the fruit to the house.

It's always exciting as a gardener to turn someone on to a new thing. I've been growing paw paws for over a decade. The fruit was favored by Native Americans and early settlers. It's starting to make a comeback, a friend even told me about finding some at a farmers market. The fruit doesn't ship well and ripens quickly when picked. The trees are easy to grow and work best as an understory planting, they can get 20 feet tall and wide.

The flesh tastes like a cross between a banana and mango. It's not easy to eat as the seeds are huge, and the flavor isn't for everyone, but I love paw paws.

I explained to Heather how to cut the fruit open and gently pull it apart and was thrilled to watch her take the first taste, she couldn't believe how tasty the yellow, custard like flesh was.

The real test would be Cale, who tentatively took the first spoonful from his mother and smiled.

I photographed his second taste.

paw paw1Heather Saftner feeds her son Cale, 4, a spoonful of flesh from a paw paw fruit. Photos by Doug Oster

paw paw2I think he likes it!

paw paw 3Hurray, another paw paw convert.

After enjoying half a paw paw, we went back into the garden as Heather was eager for some advice. It was wonderful to see the amazing bones of this historic landscape. I was guessing about which plants were new and which were original to the design. I wonder if the paw paws were added or had always been part of the plan.

Either way, it was so much fun introducing Cale and Heather to the wonders of paw paws.

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