High School English Lesson Re-Learned In The Wilderness

by Curt Kovener

For those high school students of my generation, we all recall how long-time CHS English teacher Corean Lewis tried to improve our vocabulary. Serendipity is one such word. It means an occurrence or development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
And such was my serendipitous foray into the Hoosier wilderness woods seeking the walnut tree that produces exceptionally large nuts. Because of a late frost which blackened poplar and maple leaves and made a number of us replant some garden vegetables, forest fruit production this season is a bit iffy.
So imagine my surprise on the way to my secret black walnut tree to spy pawpaws hanging from limbs.
The pawpaw is among the earliest to bloom in the spring. Its bronze bell-shaped blossoms are about the size of a sewing thimble. And since it generally blooms before insects are out an about, pollination is always suspect and pretty much reliant on the wind.
I just figured the early pawpaw blossoms had been frosted out and there would be no fruit. But it was a serendipitous chance development that brought a happy smile my way.
While the pawpaws were still hard as cueballs, I made note of their location and would come back in a few days.
Pawpaws or Indiana Banana, as some folks call them, produce green skinned fruit about the size of large hen eggs though some I have been collecting are nearly fist size. Their light yellow flesh has a custard consistency and an intoxicatingly sweet smell when ripe.
It only takes those cueball hard fruits a couple of days to give in to slight squeezes letting me know it is time to pick. Wait any longer and I risk allowing opossum, raccoons and deer to dine on the fruity dessert.
Pawpaws have no shelf life and will quickly turn soft and dark. I harvest them a little underripe and place them in a sealed paper bag for a few days to ripen. Then they go into the refrigerator until I can collect enough to process into pulp. And the pawpaws will let you know when they want to be processed as their sweet smell quickly wafts out the open refrigerator door.
Several trips to the pawpaw patch and there is a sufficient quantity to process. They mush up about the same a persimmons, have a similar size seed, and can be substituted for bananas in banana nut bread for a Hoosier taste treat…especially if hickory nuts are a part of the recipe.
Which prompted me to hope for another serendipitous time as I make a trip to my hickory nut honey hole this week.