It is harvest time in America and this week I have celebrated by observing a nice full moon, and being reminded by my Chinese friend, Wen, that it is time to make a mooncake that is a tradition in her culture.
American settlers are relatively new to the continent. Native Americans, the American Indian tribes, were here before, and that includes those from the south with Mexican roots, and those from the north with Eskimo heritage. One theory has it that Native Americans migrated across the Bering Straits from Asia before arriving in the American continent.
“Carbon14 dating shows that man appears between 15,000 to 32,000 years age. This coincides with the existence of Beringia, the land that made up the land bridge.
Next is teeth. Native Americans have what is called shovel shaped teeth. Basically the back of the front teeth are curved, much like a shovel. This is a trait that they share with people in Northwestern Asia.
Lastly there's physical remains. Like teeth shape, the earliest skeletons of Paleoamericans show that they were of Mongolian stock. That is Asian. Even today the blood grouping of Native Americans and even some of the inherited diseases show and Asian origin. Even the Kennewick Man, dated to 9,300 appears to be from Asia.”
Have I buried the lead again? This story is about indigenous fruit.
“Cereals: Maize (corn), maygrass, and little barley
Pseudocereals: Amaranth, quinoa, erect knotweed, sumpweed, and sunflowers
Pulses: Common beans, tepary beans, scarlet runner beans, lima beans, and peanuts
Fiber: Cotton, yucca, and agave
Roots and Tubers: Jicama, manioc (cassava), potatoes, sweet potatoes, sunchokes, oca, mashua, ulloco, arrowroot, yacon, leren, and groundnuts
Fruits: Tomatoes, chili peppers, avocados, cranberries, blueberries, huckleberries, cherimoyas, papayas, pawpaws, passionfruit, pineapples, soursops and strawberries
Meat and poultry: turkey, bison, muscovy ducks, and guinea pigs
Nuts: Peanut, black walnuts, shagbark hickory, pecans and hickory nuts
Other: Chocolate, Canna, tobacco, Chicle, rubber, maple syrup, birch syrup and vanilla”
Note: Peanuts is not nuts, they are legumes.
One significant omission is the paw-paw. That’s what I want to write about.
“Asimina, the pawpaw genus, a genus of trees and shrubs native to eastern North America”
I was first introduced to paw-paws by my father who took me squirrel hunting when I was about 8 years old, or so. He gave to me a 410 shotgun to use that was a small gauge and relatively easy to handle. I only had one shot, one opportunity to bag a squirrel.
Squirrel hunting takes a lot of patience, sitting at the base of a nut tree, waiting and waiting for one to show up on a branch in the sunshine. Meanwhile, you had better dressed warmly for a cool day in the morning shade.
After lots of sitting, Dad decided to change spots. We were walking to a different stump when he called to me.
“Jimmy, come over here, I want you to try something.”
In those days, I would do just about anything my Dad suggested. He picked up an oblong oval shaped fruit from beneath a tree that was yellowish in appearance.
“Here, try this. It tastes exactly like a banana.”
At first, I sniffed it. It surely had a pleasant aroma.
“He instructed, don’t eat the skin, just the fruit inside. Watch for seeds, and just spit them out.”
I proceeded with the experiment. A boy gets plenty hungry while hiking and hunting in the woods, so I was game for this. Dad was right, the fruit had the texture and taste of banana, a little more flavorful than a banana. The large seeds were easy to dispense with, and it was OK.
Now, this old tree was in a place called Boggs' bog. That was a nickname given to this section of a woods on Arnold Boggs' dairy farm in Morrow County, Ohio near Fulton and Harmony Township where my family were among the first Ohio settlers.
From that experience, nearly every year since in late September, I walk in the woods to see if I can find some paw-paws.
Yesterday, I took Sybil and Wen, two fellow artists, to look for them. We didn’t find the larger fruits, but did locate some smaller ones. Last, year the fruit was larger, and it may have something to do with rainfall, or sometimes fruit trees have on and off years of productivity.
At any rate, the woods is filled with trees along the swamp trail.
Wen said that she had painted these trees before as she recalled their leaves turning bright yellow. So, you see, there is much to appreciate about paw-paws.