Shortly before the Ohio Pawpaw Festival began, Sara Bir, a chef and writer, foraged for pawpaws growing around Lake Snowden to demonstrate how to make a pawpaw-flavored custard. However, because of an early crop frost in April, fresh pawpaws were sparse.
“It was really disappointing,” Bir said. “All my spots were bare.”
The Pawpaw Festival began Friday afternoon and concluded Sunday evening at Lake Snowden, located in Albany. The festival includes booths, live music and plenty of opportunities to try Ohio's native fruit.
The pawpaw, which is commonly described as a cross between a mango and a banana, has a rich golden inside with a relatively bland exterior. Bir said the unappealing surface puts off potential buyers who are unfamiliar with the fruit.
The name pawpaw likely originated in the Caribbean, Andrew Moore, author of Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, said it is the indigenous name for papaya.
“At some point in the 1700s, the English in the Americas stumbled upon this fruit and started calling it pawpaw,” he said. “Even though it has no relation to the papaya family.”
The Pawpaw Festival is “unique” in its effort to popularize the fruit, Marc Stadler, a board member of the North American Pawpaw Growers Association said, and the combination of varied food and music allows festgoers to enjoy a wholesome experience while celebrating the fruit.
“It’s one of the most popular events in Ohio,” he said. “It’s drawing a lot of people in from around the state. And that is not only because of the fruit but also for the food and the music.”
The festival was started to celebrate the history of the pawpaw fruit as well as to educate people about what the fruit is and how it can be used. The activities that took place during the festival included the best pawpaw contest, best pawpaw related art and a pawpaw cook-off.
“I have been coming to the festival since it was a couple of hippies and a tent,” Andrea Ferguson, a student at Alexander High School said about the festival.
Twenty food vendors came to the festival to showcase the versatility of the fruit. During the weekend, each of the vendors at the festival had an additional item on the menu that incorporated pawpaws into the recipe.
“We process the pawpaw and use the pulp for our foods, or we use allspice berries.” Michele Gorman, co-owner of Integration Acres, who has been making pawpaw food since 1996, said.
Gorman said Integration Acres, which is a farm located in Albany, prepares for the festival all year, but “crunch time is four or five months before the festival.”
Other than food, pawpaws are used to make beer. Nine Ohio craft breweries went to the festival to share their pawpaw flavored drinks.
Kyle Dasher, the brew coordinator of Marietta Brewing Company, said his favorite pawpaw beer is “Devil’s Paw” from Devil’s Kettle Brewing.
He described the beer as being “a little bit sour.”
Despite the pawpaw shortage this year due to an early frost in the spring, many venders were not affected.
“The shortage didn’t affect us because we use pulp that is frozen from years before,” Dasher said.
Lake Snowden was filled with bustling local vendors who traded pawpaw-inspired jewelry and t-shirts, among other goods.
“I came as a spectator because I went to Ohio University as a student and later on I started making jewelry out of the seeds.” Jeanna Fox, owner of Fox Designs Jewelry, said.
Despite its very short lifespan, the fruit enjoys an increasing popularity, Bir said, and the locavore movement, an effort to consume local food, is popularizing the pawpaw further.
“People today are very much into local, native food,” Stadler said. “And there is really nothing more local that I can think of in this area, more than a pawpaw.”