Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Pawpaw Adventure

After eating a lunch of Rocky Mountain Oysters last Friday with my new foodie friend Sarah, she and her hubs celebrated their 4th wedding anniversary dinner that same night at Revolver, my all-time fav restaurant. For dessert, Sarah had pawpaw creme brulee. Then she had a pawpaw meltdown-turned-obsession, which I completely understand and am grateful for because her food "crazies" inspired a wonderful food adventure.

The kind folks at Revolver shared with the Sarah the name and phone number of the farm from
which they acquired their pawpaws. Dave Resse owns Kaleidoscope Farms, a fantastic, glorious, maticulously manicured, award-winning Christmas tree farm. When we arrived in Mount Cory at the farm, he warmly greeted us with a pawpaw infused soft pretzel, which only heightened our enthusiasm for this rare fruit. With our old jeans and ready-for-action boots, we followed a neat trail lined with Christmas trees to a opening of woods. Through the woods we hiked along a beaten path of burrs and thorns until we arrived at the first pawpaw tree. Dave pointed to a little green-ish jellybean dangling from a thin branch: "There's a pawpaw." Using his extension scissors, he cut the fruit from the branch, and Sarah precisely caught it to break its fall.

The pawpaw fruit is very fragile. It bruises easily and seems to burst open even easier. When the fruit is ripe, it has a little give much like the top of ripe pear. Dave told us that he never planted the pawpaw trees; they've just "been here." Meaning, native Ohioians, the original people of the land, Native Americans, probably ate fruit from these same trees. The history-lover in me couldn't contain a sqweal of delight! The meat of the fruit is bright yellow, and it's layered with flavors: citurus, mild nuts, mango, a hint of sweet grape, and earth. It's succulent and wild but also elegant and distinguished.

Because most of the pawpaws trees were extremely tall, Dave abandoned the extension
scissors, and we resorted to gently shaking the
trees, hoping all the ripe pawpaws would fall
lightly. For me, this was the best part of our adventure. I loved spotting those little pawpaws that blended into the green of the woods, gingerly rocking the thin trunk of the tree, alertly watching where the ripe pawpaws fell, and quickly gathering those little tasty treats. My gatherer instinct kicked in, and I was on fire. It was immensely rewarding and satisfying to gather something in the wild that would become a dish I would eat.

But Sarah is going to have to cook the pawpaws; she has the pawpaw cookbook. Dave had just been to an Ohio PawPaw Growers convention where he kindly picked up a copy of The Edible Pawpaw cookbook for Sarah. This isn't a fruit I would wing a recipe for. I don't know much about it, so I'm leaving the cooking to Sarah. But I guarantee I will be a taster as she works through the 7 lbs of pawpaw we gathered. And I guarantee I will be buying the cookbook and buying pawpaws next year when they are in season for the small window of weeks from September through October.

While gathering the last of the 7 lbs, Sarah and I dived to the wood's floor to save several pawpaws and emerged stung by nettles. Resourceful Dave immediately found jewelweed, which he rubbed on our stings, and which healed our minor run-in the nastier side of nature.

After trekking back through the woods and through the tree farm, Dave took us for a ride in his Kubota, one of my all-time favorite vehicles, to show us the rest of the farm. The best part of our ride was watching the sunset over perfectly lined pines. I remember breathing so deeply and feeling purely happy and at peace, at home in my home state.

On our way home, unintentionally coming full-circle but intentionally craving good food, Sarah and I stopped at Revolver for the pawpaw creme brulee. Unfortunately, they were closed for a private party, but ever-awesome chef Michael made us two helpings for take-out. (Thank you, Michael and the whole Revolver gang, espeically Jonah!!!!)

Outside on the dusk-and-candle-lit patio, we gleefully cracked through a perfect sugar coat and celebrated the success of our pawpaw adventure.

While our adventure further strengthened our friendship bond and brought Sarah and I closer to our food-souls, the one thing that really became more clear to me was my love for Ohio. I know a lot of people think our state doesn't have much to offer or they think that there's nothing special about Ohio. But I beg to differ. I'm finding that while living in a rural Ohio community, the more resourceful I am, the better my life here in rural Ohio is. Finding true family farms, like Dave's and Luginbill's, or local cheeses and breads, or taking a driving tour of Wood County to learn its history, or participating in local community projects and activities only further connects me to the land, my land, the state I love. I'm a Cleveland-girl at heart, but I'm learning to appreciate all the communities of Ohio, which in turn only fuels my love of Ohio as a state with lots of something-specials to offer. I'm learning that the appreciation of place helps me live in the present moment, and the present moment helps me build a home for where I am right now in my life. And my heart is at home in Ohio.

***This post owes a special thanks to Dave Reese, Micheal Bulkowski, and Jonah. Without these three good-hearted men, our adventure wouldn't have been as safe and as wonderful as it was. Thank you all!

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