The Pawpaw is one of the most unique fruits in American history. Indigenous to Eastern, Southern, and Midwestern United States, and cultivated in the Athens County, Ohio, area, it’s hard to believe that pawpaws have been around for generations and were once a critically important source of food for both Native Americans and early European settlers. George Washington is known to have cultivated pawpaws. It’s also been recorded that Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition of the West relied on pawpaws for sustenance when other sources of food failed.
However, Pawpaws, that mysterious, wild fruit that loves to grow across our mid-Appalachian region, provides a rare tropical twist to the flavor palette of our regional cuisine. The bright flavor might remind you of something tropical; most agree that it tastes like a cross between mango and banana. And it goes great in beer and moonshine too.
Speaking of taste, Eric Hedin, specialist for the Fermentation Science program at Hocking College, says that they brew pawpaws because “they are there and have an interesting flavor. Moonshine has always been made with what is available. Along the Ohio River where they grow tomatoes, shiners would take all the broken fruit, put it in a drum and make the tomato shine.” He noted that pawpaws are easy to brew and that you can experiment with different techniques when it comes to brewing. Hedin said that over the years he has made and tasted many types of pawpaw wines and beers that were created in numerous ways.
Since Pawpaws are a seasonal fruit, the Fermentation Science program hopes to harvest enough pawpaws to be able to freeze some of its pulp to make a beer for next year's Ohio Pawpaw Festival.
The Ohio Pawpaw Festival
Pawpaws became so popular in Appalachia that in 1996, Chris Chmiel founded Integration Acres and, in 1999, the organization began promoting the pawpaw. Integration Acres, along with the Albany Business & Community Development Committee and the Albany Riding Club, organized the first pawpaw festival on Sunday, October 10, 1999. It rained for most of the day, but the event then called the Albany Pawpaw Festival, was a success and a tradition was born.
Decades later, the Ohio Pawpaw Festival has evolved into one of Ohio’s premier events, offering attendees a solid three day weekend of all things pawpaw: the best pawpaw competition, pawpaw cook-off and pawpaw eating contest; brewer’s round table & tasting session; workshops & speakers; live music; an artisan & community marketplace; kids’ activities; and, of course, plenty of pawpaw food. A full line-up of educational presentations and activities cover pawpaw growing, cooking, genetics, medical use and other topics related to sustainability.
For more information on the pawpaw festival, visit the website for the 23rd Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival which runs from September 17-19 in Albany, Ohio.
Hocking College also offers an Associate of Applied Science in Fermentation Science which includes majors in Craft Brewing, Viticulture/Winemaking, Distilled Spirits and Culinary Fermentation. Students in the Fermentation Science program have the unique opportunity to learn in real-world training laboratories and will receive hands-on training as they immerse themselves in three different businesses owned and operated by the College; Rhapsody, The Lodge at Hocking College and the Black Diamond Distillery. Additionally, Hocking College is pursuing a partnership with the Napa Valley Wine Academy, America’s Premier Wine School based in Napa Valley, CA.