Pawpaw Hunting at Dismal Swamp State Park
September is winding down which means it is pawpaw season! North America’s largest indigenous, edible fruit typically ripens between August and October. Last year, I purchased my pawpaws from a lady in Blacksburg who had two trees in her yard. They were delicious– like a mango crème brûlée. They were so good, I found myself sucking the skin to savor all the flavor I could.
This year, I definitely wanted to relive the experience but I’m living quite a bit a ways from Blacksburg. I needed to find a more convenient source.
Enter the Dismal Swamp State Park. Just seventeen miles north of Elizabeth City, the park is home to pawpaw trees. How do I know this? It says so right on the website!
Persimmon, poke, blueberry, various oaks, black walnut and tall pawpaw also provide food for wildlife.
-Excerpt from “Dismal Swamp State Park – Ecology” page.
Alas, there are 22 square miles of protected forest wetlands in the Dismal Swamp State Park. That’s a lot of area to cover. While researching, I noticed there was an canal called “Pawpaw Ditch”. That seemed like a promising place to start our search– so Ryan Somma, the two dogs and I headed out thinking we had an eight mile hike ahead of us.
However, as we were entering the park, we inquired with the park ranger, “Do you know where any pawpaw trees are?”
Lo and behold, he cited trees on the boardwalk right near the Welcome Center.
“But there’s been a man waiting for them and I think he picked them clean,” the ranger added.
We decided to check out the nearby trees anyway and sure enough, no fruit was to be seen. Next we tried the Supplejack Trail, also near the Welcome Center. Although we came across a number of familiar trees with the familiar leaves, all the fruit appeared to be gone.
And then! We saw a tree with fruit! Sadly they weren’t ready to be picked, but they gave us hope!
We continued along and I decided to investigate a tree a little off the trail. I didn’t see any fruit. To add insult to injury, I managed to get myself cornered in some brush. You know the saying “Between a rock and a hard place”? I was between thorny bushes and devil’s walking stick… in shorts no less.
As I struggled to get out while minimizing the abrasions to my limbs, I brushed against the tree. I heard a soft thump behind me. I turned around– and there at my feet was a perfectly ripe pawpaw! I shrieked like a little girl. I shook the tree on purpose and TWO more ripe pawpaws joined me on the ground. I shrieked again like an annoying little girl. But I was elated– we had found our first three pawpaws!
Me with our Pawpaw Find (Photo by Ryan Somma)
I ate one right there on the trail. And for the second year in a row, I found myself sucking on the skin.
Eating First Pawpaw of 2009 (Photo by Ryan Somma)
After that, searching for pawpaws got a lot easier. I think some of it was because we were getting further down the Supplejack Trail. And I think some of it was because we had fine tuned a technique that worked for us.
Ryan Demonstrates Pawpaw Hunting Technique
We look forward to a week of pawpaw breakfasts and desserts and introducing the neighborhood kids to a new fruit. In the meantime– a lot more fruit awaits at the Dismal Swamp State Park’s Supplejack Trail! Go get it!