Tag Archives: pawpaw

Ohio Pawpaw Festival 2010

Have you ever tasted a pawpaw? If the answer is no, then you should make plans to head to the Ohio pawpaw festival next weekend.

Pawpaws are the largest native fruit in the United States and the official native fruit of Ohio. They are also an Ark of Taste fruit.  They grow on trees in woodland areas in Ohio and 25 other states and have a pale green skin that turns yellow as they ripen. They are amazingly tropical for something that grows in Ohio and are like a cross between a custard apple, mango, guava and banana. The flesh is creamy yellow but have a lot of seeds and bruise easily so aren’t popular commercially.

The pawpaw festival offers all sorts of pawpaw treats and activities. Here’s my account of last year’s festival. I will be there on Sunday judging the pawpaw cook-off contest at 1.30pm. Here is the schedule of the rest of the weekend’s activities.  You can also combine your visit to the festival with a visit to the Athens farmers’ market, an O’Betty’s hot dog or some of the other great restaurants there. There are some other Athens ideas herehere and here.

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Locavore Dinner at The Winery at Otter Creek

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Last year the ‘Shake the Hand That Feeds you Dinner‘ at the Flying J Farm was my first Slow Food Columbus event. It was a magical evening, eating al fresco by candle light with convivial company, food from the farm and a master chef working the grill. I secretly feared that the encore could not live up to my memories. I was wrong. Sitting at a candle-lit table overlooking the vineyard at sunset, it was as if we had been magically transported to the Napa valley.

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It was not all smooth sailing. Planning a big event never is, but the locavore dinner had more than its fair share of obstacles and logistical complications. In the final days before the event the rain was relentless and the forecast was ominous. Luckily saturday was dry and after a blustery afternoon the wind died down at 5pm precisely and the tablecloths finally stopped threatening to fly away.

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There may have been an element of luck with the weather but the fact that the dinner came together with such style is a tribute to Bear and Colleen and their powers of organization, creativity and persistence. The Winery at Otter Creek is a young operation located near Johnstown Ohio with a beautiful hillside setting and as well as providing a stunning setting they supplied a variety of their wines for the dinner.

OtterCreekRefreshmentsWe started with refreshments and amuse-bouche as we watched the chefs in action and admired the view. The heirloom tomato-water ‘martini’ was a popular choice.

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The crostini was one of my favorite things of the evening, goats cheese, pesto, roasted tomatoes, simple but sumptuous, a perfect match of creamy and crispy.

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While we were milling around, whetting our appetites, the chefs John and Ryan from Basi Italia were hard at work creating amazing things on the biggest Weber grill you have ever seen.  They were cheerfully assisted by Andrew and Adrienne, who may not have realized what they had let themselves in for.

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Above: Free-range Ohio pheasants, shot to order from Mill Creek Pheasant Farm crowding around a pan of spicebush scented sauerkraut with honeycrisp apples. Below: a riot of color – fall squashes, purple potatoes and beauregard sweet potatoes.

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I will let the menu speak for itself. It was colorful, seasonal, delicious and a feat of outdoor cooking. The salads were plated but the main course was served family style and an ample supply of fresh bread, home made butter and rillettes added to the abundance.

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As well as featuring a wealth of local foods, the dinner incorporated two foods that are both local and Ark of Tasteground cherries in the autumnal tumble salad and garnishing the martini, and pawpaws in both cheesecake and ice cream form. I have a feeling that a few of the other foods would make excellent candidates. Purple potatoes, spicebush berries?

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After the pawpaw festival I thought I might never eat pawpaw again, but these creamy treats enticed me back. I was responsible for the black walnut biscotti, using half of the nuts specified in my usual recipe. They were best dipped in some hot apple cider.

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A Slow Food Columbus locavore dinner would not be complete without some pawpaw liqueur and so the more (fool) hardy headed to Flying J farm to set up camp, build a huge campfire and continue the festivities. Chestnuts anyone?

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Although the dinner was the brainchild of Bear and Colleen, it would not have been possible without the help, generosity and kindness of so many others. As well as the thank you list below, there were many others who helped out on the night, collecting glasses, clearing plates and scooping ice cream. OtterCreekMenu

Our chefs, John and Ryan surveying the contented diners. A job well done.

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There are more photos on flickr, including shots of our fantastic campfire breakfast.

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Pawpaw Festival

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Last year when I tried my first pawpaw, I had no idea that a year later I would be judging the best pawpaw competition at the Ohio pawpaw festival. Although this was my first experience food judging I did feel somewhat qualified. I have watched CMH Gourmand in judging action many times and as well as eating my fair share of  paw paws, I have visited Integration Acres the largest pawpaw processing facility in the world.

If you are unfamiliar with pawpaws here is a quick introduction: pawpaws are the largest native fruit in the United States and the official native fruit of Ohio. They are also an Ark of Taste fruit.  They grow on trees in woodland areas in Ohio and 25 other states and have a pale green skin that turns yellow as they ripen. They are amazingly tropical for something that grows in Ohio and are like a cross between a custard apple, mango, guava and banana. The flesh is creamy yellow but have a lot of seeds and bruise easily so aren’t popular commercially.

There were three pawpaw competitions taking place on saturday. The best pawpaw, the pawpaw cook-off competition and the pawpaw eating competition. I judged the first two, but I felt like I had entered the third. I think I ate more paw paws than any of the contestants in the eating competition. I love pawpaws but Saturday was a good lesson that you can have too much of a good thing.

We started at 12.30pm with the best pawpaw competition. The three other judges were Matt Rapposelli (Executive Chef at Ohio University), Debbie Phillips (State Representative, D-Athens) and Scott Bradley (Chef at Zoë’s Fine Dining, whose restaurant we went to on our Slow Food tour in June). Master of Ceremonies and Organizer of the competitions was Barbara Fisher (former chef at Salaam and blogger at Tigers & Strawberries).

This has been a bumper year for pawpaws and we had 26 entries in the best pawpaw competition with some coming from as far as Indiana. Some of the pawpaws were named varieties and others were wild. We judged each entry on appearance, skin surface and thickness, aroma, flavor and texture. We also scored the pawpaws on weight and seeds which allowed us to look at the ratio of seeds to flesh. More flesh is obviously desirable. The pawpaws ranged in weight from 5 to 17 oz with the average weight 8.4 oz. The number of seeds ranged from 5-16 (in general there is a seed for every oz of flesh but some are more seedy than others). With all the entry numbers, weights and seeds being called out it felt like we were playing bingo.

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Here are some things I learned during the best pawpaw competition:

  • There is surprisingly little correlation between the taste and the aroma.
  • There is a lot of variability in flesh color from pale buttery yellow to deep mangoey orange.
  • Under-ripe pawpaws are a cure for constipation
  • Don’t eat the skin or the seeds (I knew that before, but it’s useful to know)
  • Pawpaws are best eaten at room temperature
  • The taste is different close to the skin and can be bitter there
  • Pawpaws can be a lot riper on one side than the other if one side had more sun.

By the time we finished judging the best pawpaws it was already time for the pawpaw cook off and I was already feeling fairly full of pawpaw. Matt Rapposelli was also judging the pawpaw cook-off and we were joined by Colleen Braumoeller (Slow Food Columbus and manager of the Greener Grocer) and Kelly Kingman, a free-lance journalist and blogger at Hudsongrown.com.

Kelly had been inspired to come to the Pawpaw Festival by reading the book The Fruit Hunters and had driven all the way from the Hudson Valley without ever having tasted a pawpaw before. It was truly a baptism of fire with 39 entries in the competition. Entries were divided into drinks, breads, sauces and desserts, the latter being the most competitive category with 19 entries. Barbara was a whirlwind, slicing, describing and distributing food and managed to keep her sense of humor throughout. The judges had a lot of fun discussing flavors and favorites. I will admit though, that by the end we were counting down the dishes and praying for it to end soon.

Here is a taste of what we ate: pancakes, polenta, bread, spice cake, cupcakes, cheesecake, salad, vinaigrette, chili sauce, chili, chicken curry, mole, deep fried oreos, sandwiches, pies, date bars, creme brulee, brownies, salsa, elephant ears… all of course featuring pawpaw. To drink there was pawpaw lassi, pawpaw wine, pawpaw melomel (honey and pawpaw) and a pawpaw mojito. Foods were judged on flavor, texture, appearance, aroma, originality, use of pawpaw and pawpaw flavor. As a first time judge, at first it was harder to judge originality but by the third cheesecake it was becoming easier.

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The winners were announced by category: Best dessert was a pawpaw semifreddo (bottom left, above) with a pawpaw reduction. It was my favorite dish overall and was apparently made by one of the chefs from Fur Peace Ranch. The winning sauce was a chicken curry with cashews which was very popular with the judges, the winning bread was punjabi pockets with pawpaw chili sauce (bottom right, above) and the winning beverage was a pawpaw mojito. Some of the dishes were delicious but you could not taste the pawpaw and the judges agreed that that was an important factor.

Advice for future entrants: Originality is important – try to think beyond the obvious. Odds of winning are lower in the dessert category as it has the most entries. Get someone else to taste your entry and ask them if they can taste the pawpaw. Don’t forget presentation – it scores the same as flavor and is the first impression that the judges have of your dish. Make sure that garnishes are edible (don’t use real pawpaw seeds as a garnish, you could dip some almonds in chocolate to look like seeds).

The judging finally finished around 4.30 and after four hours of eating pawpaws I miraculously found room for an Integration Acres pawpaw pop and a taste of the hand churned Snowville Creamery pawpaw ice cream. This brought my tally up to 25 pawpaws tasted and 41 pawpaw foods. After that it was time to lie down, enjoy a little pawpaw beer and watch some other people eating pawpaws. In the picture below Chris Chmiel, founder of the festival, is introducing the eating competition. Competitors had to race to clean off 20 pawpaw seeds with their hands behind their backs. If only I hadn’t been so full….

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The pawpaw festival is a family friendly festival with the laid back feel you would expect from Athens. The weather was perfect and the setting overlooking Lake Snowden was beautiful. I recommend checking it out next year if you haven’t been before. It is also a good excuse to check out the Athens Farmers Market and local restaurants. There are more photos of the festival on flickr and on CMH Gourmand and there will also be some interviews on the next Columbus Foodcast.

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