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The Paw Paw Flowers

 

About twelve years ago, I bought a box of paw paws. I had to order them from Ohio, during the fruit’s very short season in September, and commit to eating most of them myself, because they were a bit too funny looking and odd smelling to share (believe me, I tried).

paw paws

Paw paws (this is not my picture)

Someone had told me about paw paws, waxed rhapsodic about their sweetness, made endless metaphors out of their shape and elusiveness and the speed with which they turn black and rot. I wanted to like these damned things, but at the same time I was angry at them, for being so much more interesting, to him, than I would ever be.

Of course it’s all about heartbreak. Why else would a fruit that barely has a season capture my imagination so thoroughly that I had to order a whole damned box of them from Ohio?

They arrived, wrapped individually in newspaper, because they are so fragile and easily bruised. Like me? Like him? The metaphor never ends. They are filled with a row of almond shaped seeds that you have to dig out or suck on to get the flesh that clings stubbornly to them. And the fruit has to be eaten with a spoon. You can’t peel it like an orange, or slice it like an apple, or bite straight into it like a strawberry. It’s work. And it’s messy. And it is sweet and custardy and sort of tastes like peaches and bananas and mangoes and vanilla have been tossed together into a blender.

paw paw seeds

(Also not my picture)

I saved the seeds in the freezer, like the instructions in the box told me to do (because paw paw growers are by their very nature proselytizers), and then, sometime in late winter, when it wasn’t really warming up yet, I planted the seeds in big pots in the kitchen, and set them by the window sill, and watched. The pots needed protection from the lingering cold, so I wrapped them in scarves. And then, like the Talmudic sages said the angels do for every seed, I stood over the pots and whispered, “Grow, grow.”

pawpaw new home 002

My dancing paw paws!

The seedlings were tall and full of personality and five or six of them even survived long enough to be planted outdoors once the weather was warm enough. We kept them in their pots at first, though, so that they could come back inside if they needed to.

Three, maybe four, survived the first year and grew into little trees. Three trees came with us when we moved here five years later. One suffered a horrible gardening accident, but two lived, and settled into their new surroundings and continued to grow. They got taller and taller, their trunks started to thicken, their leaves extended out like shiny green fans and then paled to yellow in the fall, and disappeared for the winter, and reappeared in the spring. They kept getting taller, and healthier, but there was no fruit yet, not even a flower.

We got impatient and ordered two new baby trees, because a New York State expert in paw paws said we needed to have at least two trees in close proximity in order for fertilization to occur, and the two we had were too far apart.

But the baby trees we bought were crushed in the shipping process and never really recovered, though we watched over them hopefully for a season. And then last summer, after the baby trees had given up completely, my two stalwart twelve year old trees, that have been with me since they were just almond shaped seeds buried in the dirt, flowered.

001

 

The flowers were small, and a deep burgundy brown color. And pretty quickly the flowers dried up and flew away, and the leaves turned yellow again and the trees went to sleep again for another winter.

And this year, the flowers are bigger and brighter, and there are more of them, and they are filled with enough powdery, sticky pollen that we were able to transfer it from the flowers of one tree to the flowers of the other, by Q-tip.

I don’t know what will happen next. The trees aren’t especially muscular, and even if the fruit appears, the branches may not be up to holding the weight of it yet. But maybe soon. Maybe there will be paw paws in my backyard someday soon.

 

IMG_1053

Paw paw standing tall

Twelve years seems too long to wait for a piece of fruit, I know. But maybe the wait is the point. The patience, the slow growth. I mean, the metaphor works. The comparison to me, and turtle-slow growth is obvious. Maybe me and my paw paw trees will find our strength and come to fruition at the same time.

You never know.

IMG_1035

The girls are waiting.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

80 responses »

  1. nvsubbaraman

    Great. Thanks. Congrats.

    Reply
  2. What a wonderful story. Thrilled to know the trees are carrying on.

    Reply
  3. I planted 2 paw paws this spring. I see I have a bit of a wait. They will form colonies, too. Hope you have actual fruit! This is a lovely post.

    Reply
  4. Aww that’s awesome and so cool how you transferred the pollen. I tried one once, they are really good! The flowers are really pretty too.

    Reply
  5. You’ll never get fruit. You have two paw paws and no maw maws.

    Reply
  6. Oh, Kismet’s joke……hahaha! Twelve years…..have the girls figured that out in dog years? I think you’re doing fine, Rachel.

    Reply
  7. How exciting! Now, I must investigate paw paws.

    Reply
  8. I did not know anything about paw paws. Now I know quite a bit!
    Hopefully by next year the trees will bear fruit.

    Reply
  9. I have never tried a paw paw but your description sounds good. We bought an apple tree years ago. It usually has low fruit production. Maybe we will get it a mate.

    Reply
  10. They say gardening teaches you patience. You must have a boat-load of it!

    Reply
  11. I never knew paw paws were real anything. I only remember the song we sang as children in those deep piney woods of rural east Texas: Picking up paw paws, puttin’ them in the basket…”
    I’m sure none of us children had even seen a paw paw.

    Reply
  12. Great story! I hope you’re soon enjoying your own paw paws!

    Reply
  13. Cool, interesting. I hope the one little clump will grow to a full grown paw paw.

    Reply
  14. I have never eaten a Paw Paw, but from your description of the taste, it sounds like something I would like. You faith in the plants is very touching, and I hope that you see some fruit from them one day. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Reply
  15. I love the metaphors. You inspire my own lawn and garden efforts. I feel I have a few metaphors of my own there (I LOVE metaphor, by the way). I hope you won’t mind if I steal your idea and blog about them. I’ll link back to this post if I do.

    Reply
  16. Wonderful, Rachel! You made me laugh out loud!

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  17. Cutest little girls 👍

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  18. I am anticipating paw paw updates. There is a metaphorical love story in the making, I do believe.

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  19. What a great example of slow growth. Hoping your trees get around to fruiting in the next decade. 😉

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  20. How wonderful Rachel! Patience is indeed a virtue and being rewarded. Hope they taste good when they arrive!

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  21. Wonderful post. Now I want to know more about paw paws. Good luck with yours.

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  22. I respect your patience. There is no way i could wait 12 years.

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  23. I hope your patience will be rewarded. This is an amazing story of paw paw survival!

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  24. What on earth made you go searching for paw paws? Was it the connection to dogs in their name? Had you eaten some. As an earlier comment stated, I only ever heard of them from that song about picking up paw paws and putting them in my pocket.

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  25. That’s a beautiful metaphor about enduring to the end and gaining a sweet reward possibly. I hope you keep your readers updated about possible baby paw-paws and more pictures! 🙂

    Reply
  26. Well, you know what they say, when life gives you lemons, swap them for… paw paws? No, that’s not right, hang on

    Reply
  27. I love this post so very much, and I’ve never had nor heard of a paw paw till today. (Paw paw is what Maverick does when he wants my attention, by the way)

    Reply
  28. These grow wild in the woods near our home. You’re right, they are tasty but hard to eat. A weird fact, they are the sole food source for the caterpillar of the zebra swallowtail butterfly. If you see the butterflies, paw paws have to be somewhere nearby. So, you never know what might happen in your yard. All sorts of beauty unfolding. 🙂

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  29. It’s worth it. Our trees are now 26 years old. It took a long time for them to start fruiting. Now I get so many I’m ready to ghost them.

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  30. I only came across paw paws earlier this years, also from another blogger. I’ve never actually seen one, let alone eaten one, in the UK. They’re definitely interesting..! I’m really curious, especially as you say that have a little custardy, peachy/banana/vanilla flavour to them. Great idea to use the seeds, and it’s brilliant the little trees were able to travel with you when you moved. RIP to the one that suffered the unfortunate ‘accident’😂 The trees are incredible! The fruit aspect is certainly a test of patience, but you’re right, it’s a metaphor in action!
    Caz xx

    Reply
  31. I have never heard of PawPaws. Thank you for sharing your experience. You have been so patient with your plants and trees. I do hope that you get some fruit this year.

    Reply
  32. Oh I loved this story…paw paw is one of my favourite fruits, so juicy and rich. May you blossom too like the fruit

    Reply
  33. I think I must try paw-paws now! My fingers are crossed for you to see fruit soon. 3 years ago, I planted a baby dogwood tree in our yard. This year we got a single flower. . . wondering what I need to make sure we get more next year.

    Reply
  34. Lovely piece. Clever metaphors. Patience is a virtue. In my 75th year I still have problems slowing down. I am not sure what the rush is; probably my anxiety.

    Reply
  35. Beautifully written, Rachel ! ❤

    Reply
  36. Hi Rachel! Loved this piece about Paw-Paws. I know something about them. I have lived in Kentucky for most of my life and I am 78 years old. I once did a lot of Squirrel hunting with my Dad. He’s the one who introduced me to Paw-Paws. When he came upon a Tree with fruit on it in the fall, he would always fill his hunting coat with the fruit. He liked to place them in the rear window of his cars to make the car smell better. I’ve eaten some of the fruit. You are accurate in your description of the flavors. It’s almost as if it couldn’t make up its’ mind as to what it wanted to be. Is that you Rachel? I have written a short story or two about fruit trees.
    One was a Peach Tree and another was an Apple Tree. Both were wild raised by Mother Nature. Adversity is a real problem for wild trees. I love the way you think and write. Thanks for sharing. See you around.

    Reply
  37. I never heard of paw paw flowers before. I do have a couple of paw paw family members though. 😀

    Reply
  38. I hope your patience will be rewarded! Do you know what pollenates the flowers? Bats?

    Reply

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