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America's forgotten fruit: the pawpaw

Douglass, Texas (KETK) - Have you ever seen a pawpaw?

Not your grandfather, the fruit.

Their trees are native to East Texas, but few have ever seen one.

Somewhere in the hills and woods of Douglass in Nacogdoches County lies an elusive pawpaw tree.

They are hearty trees, able to withstand both high and low temperatures and can be found from Texas all the way to Canada.

Pawpaws also grow between 10 and 40 feet.

"The fruit was written about by one the earliest explorers, Hernando DeSoto, in 1541 as he was exploring what would later become the southern United States," said Angelina County Extension Agent Cary Sims in a press release. "He found it being cultivated by native Americans."

Even founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to enjoy pawpaws.

A rare tree that once was abundant is now all but forgotten.

"I've been to numerous food markets, I've talked with producers," said Ashton Logsdon, Nacogdoches County Extension Assistant. "I'd like to consider that I keep myself informed on what's going on and I've never met anyone that had one."

But if you're lucky, you can find them growing wild.

Theron Beaudreau of Integrated Acres heard a rumor there were wild pawpaws somewhere on his land, and after years of searching, he finally found them.

"One day we happened to stumble upon their flowering, their flowers are really unique and so once we say the flower we knew 'oh these are pawpaws!'" said Theron Beaudreau, Integrated Acres. "(And) not just one big pawpaw but there's, I've counted over a 100 little pawpaw trees here and there."

When it comes to pawpaw trees all you really need to do is find a tree, give it a good shake and hope something delicious falls down.

But if they're out there, why don't you see them in grocery stores?

"Once ripe you may have three to 10 days, even under the best conditions, so that limited amount of short shelf life doesn't allow you to keep them very long," said Logsdon.

Growing them on your own comes with a unique set of challenges.

Pawpaws need to cross pollinate, meaning you need more than one tree.

They're also pollinated by flies instead of bees or ladybugs.

"They have hanging road-kill in the trees to attract these flies and that's a big deterrent to people to try and make the fruit," said Logsdon.

Plus, they already need a specific place to grow, acidic sands, shade and close proximity to water.

Beaudreau says the weather this year hasn't been kind to the pawpaws.

"We went from a really cold winter to just a really hot summer really fast and as a result we didn't' see a lot of fruit set this year," he said. "And then the fruit that did set doesn't seem like it's matured very much because we haven't gotten a lot of rain."

But most of all, are they any good?

"We do enjoy shaking the trees and eating what falls out of them," said Beaudreau. "The fruit is delicious, it's kind of a mango-y, custard-y, banana flavor."

So if you're looking for a natural, and native dessert, maybe go for a walk in the woods.

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