Paw Paw Postmaster Lori Davis is happy to help folks learn more about her town’s namesake fruit.
Every fall, she get calls (and even visits) from folks who want to sample pawpaws.
Most are visitors to the tiny western Morgan County community. Many come to bicycle on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and ride through the Paw Paw tunnel. Camping is also popular.
Outgoing and friendly, Davis, greets local customers by names. After all she’s a town native, and her father previously served as postmaster too.
After disappearing momentarily, she returns with a cookie to sample. It was baked by a local lady and contains an extra special ingredient, pawpaws.
No wonder spreading the word about pawpaws just comes naturally to her.
She never fails to invite folks to sample and take some home, as long as the season lasts.
“This time of the year I have people coming in just about every day asking if they can have some of them. Honestly, it is kind of like a tourist attraction and a novelty too.”
It’s easy enough since there are two ornamental trees in the post office’s front yard.
The pair were planted there on May 23,1984, as a way of honoring the town, and have flourished ever since.
Right now, dozens of the fleshy, oval-shaped fruits are lying on the ground and ready to eat.
“Just here in the last week they have really begun to fall. It’s interesting because pawpaws are the last ones to get leaves, and the first to lose them,” she said.
Sometimes she gives advice on ripeness to newcomers, and what to expect in terms of taste.
“I think they have a consistency of a pear, kind of gritty and definitely mushy when they get really ripe,” she said.
Known as the West Virginia banana, there’s more of a tropical taste (not unlike a mango) although opinions vary by individuals.
“I once had some pawpaw ice cream, and I thought it tasted more like peaches,” she said.
A local man, who’d come to mail a package, offered to demonstrate how to peel the thin skin off the fruit.
Stepping outside the front door, there was a definite, delicate smell in the air.
“Pawpaws really are interesting, especially the taste. Of course, I’m biased because I like both the town and the fruit,” he said while searching the ground for the perfect specimen.
Don’t even think about tasting a green one on the tree, because they are as sour as a wild persimmon.
And the all black ones are past their prime.
The key is to get one that’s green but with dark black spots.
Since there are several large seeds inside, it’s best to cut the fruit in half before spooning out them out to get to the pulp.
He compared the flavor to a cross between a banana and strawberry custard.
“They are really good when they are ripe, but it is an acquired taste. It’s the North America papaya, because it is in the papaya family,” he said.
Native pawpaws grew along the Potomac River, and were popular with Native American who frequented the area.
“That’s why you will find a lot of pawpaws on the river banks. Unfortunately the places where these trees like to grow are also the places popular with copperheads and other kinds of snakes,” he said.
Naming the town for the unusual tree was the right thing to do, he said.
“They always said that Paw Paw was so nice, they named it twice.”