Paw Paws, The Best Wild Fruit You've Never Heard Of
Imagine you are visiting a lush tropical resort. Upon your arrival, you are greeted with a platter of a fruit you have never seen before. The fruit's flesh is a creamy pale yellow, the texture like a soft banana. The flavor is a cross between a mango, a banana, has just a hint of melon, and finishes with a yeasty touch reminiscent of a good beer. Sound like something you would try?
The fruit in question is the paw paw. And you don't have to go to the tropics to enjoy one. Paw paws grow wild over most of the eastern United States. They are an understory tree, forming a lush layer of green below towering hardwoods.
Paw paws don't keep long, so dig out the flesh, vacuum seal it to freeze, or make paw paw preserves to add to other dishes throughout the year. Homemade paw paw ice cream is a treat you won't soon forget.
For this recipe, I made a thick custard and blended paw paw pulp into it, then used the custard as a filling for fried Paw Paw Custard Hand Pies. Give it a try. You won't be sorry.
2 cups paw paw pulp
6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon bourbon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup lard, chilled and cut into pieces
1 1/2 sticks cold butter, diced
4 to 8 tablespoons ice water
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
For the dough, in a food processor or large bowl, mix flour, sugar and salt. Gradually cut in the cold butter and lard, a small piece at a time, until all of it is incorporated and looks like small grains of meal blended into the flour. Work in the vinegar. Start adding the ice water, a tablespoon at a time, working with a fork or pulsing the food processor until dough comes together in a ball. The dough should just hold together when squeezed, but not be sticky or wet.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or a zip-style bag and refrigerate for at least one hour up to overnight.
For the filling, begin by adding the sugar, salt and corn starch to a medium saucepan. Mix well. Place the pan over medium heat and add the milk. Stir slowly and continue to heat until mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken. Reduce heat and continue the mixture at a low boil for two more minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly ladle a bit of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Continue the process until you have added at least a cup to the egg yolks. Slowly add the warmed egg yolk mixture back to the pan and bring it to a boil again, stirring regularly. Boil the mixture for an additional two to three minutes and remove the pan from the heat again.
Add the paw paw pulp, the bourbon and the lemon juice and incorporate well. Sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over the surface and mix in. Transfer the mixture to a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down onto the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Chill the mixture well. The custard filling can be made up to three days in advance.
To make the pies, pinch off a golf ball sized chunk of the refrigerated dough. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a thin disk, about 6 inches across.