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Mia Leibold, 9, from Columbus, cleans a paw paw seed during an eating contest at the Pawpaw Festival at Lake Snowden on Saturday, Sept. 15. The contestants had to eat the entire paw paw off their plates and clean off the seeds without using their hands. (Dustin Lennert | Picture Editor)

Annual Pawpaw Festival makes sweet return

While fests in Athens are devoted to streets and numbers, this weekend saw a festival dedicated to something a little sweeter.


From Friday through Sunday, Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Area Program presented the 14th annual Pawpaw Festival in Albany, Ohio.


The festival centered on the “forgotten fruit” for which it was named, serving up pawpaw-flavored muffins, popsicles, beer and many more treats. Some vendors even served the fruit plain and gave samples to those trying it for the first time.


The fruit was ever present at the festival, despite weather conditions and a drought that threatened many pawpaw crops.


“This year, our crop has gotten ripe earlier than usual,” said Chris Chmiel, one of the festival’s coordinators. “Last year, the pawpaw was getting ripe just as the festival began. Luckily we have enough pawpaw trees that there were plenty of pawpaws to be had at the festival.”


The festival also featured many of Athens’ food trucks and some other fair fare. Some booths even incorporated pawpaw into their usual dishes.


Aside from devouring the pawpaw fruit, festival attendees bought homemade jewelry, soaps, tie-dye products and many more. They also participated in archery, posed for pictures with a giant pawpaw and learned pawpaw facts in the information tent.


“I loved the environment,” said Kelly Schlabach, a sophomore studying dance. “Everyone was really nice and having a good time, and the community was great. It was a really wonderful atmosphere.”


For those attending the festival with canine companions, there was “Paws at the Pawpaw,” a separate festival specifically for dogs. There was a painting station, “barks and crafts,” and a “canine cabana” for dogs to stay in while their owners enjoyed the main festival.


“(It was) a lot more fun having the dogs at the festival,” said Karen Pilcher, a coordinator for Friends of the Shelter Dogs. “It’s nice to have them present and not worrying if they’re tied somewhere or at a hotel or a boarding facility. They can be with them all day.”


Between all the fair activities, Chmiel said that he hoped everyone had a taste of the Pawpaw Festival, especially those attending for the first time.


“I hope that they had a good time, tried some pawpaws, met some new people and just had a great time,” he said.

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