Pawpaw: Provides fruit for Ozarks desserts
News-Leader.com - Springfield,MO,USA
"The first historical reference of pawpaws was made by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541, who found it growing in villages east of the Mississippi ..."
caught my attention for for a not so obvious reason. Almost a decade ago in preparation for the De Soto 2000 event in Parkin, Arkansas, I'd researched clothing and food used by the expedition west of the Mississippi, which by then was totally dependent on native wear and cuisine, and I simply couldn't remember ever coming across a mention of pawpaws, not could I find the fruit in a review my old notes. I fondly recall stirring a pot with a persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) stick at the event as persimmons are specifically noted, but pawpaw just didn't ring a bell. So I double checked with my copy of Adin Baber's rather comprehensive Food Plants of the De Soto Expedition 1539-1541., published in the journal Tequesta in 1942. Again no mention of pawpaws. Searching the available on-line De Soto Chronicles for 'pawpaws' had the same result. So where is this authoritative historical fact coming from? I asked myself.
At Pawpaw-treat-yourself-taste I found this quote,"Native Americans collected and cultivated the fruits, and 400 years ago a traveling companion of De Soto compared them to buttery, sweet pears. (He had never tasted a banana.)" Again, searching for "buttery," "sweet," or "pears" failed to turn up a match. The De Soto, never tasted a banana aside seemed questionable too. The Elvas account mentions the expedition's time in Cuba where the resupplied after the voyage from a Spain and before the La Florida entrada.
OF THE INHABITANTS THERE ARE IN THE CITY OF SANTIAGO AND OTHER TOWNS OF THE ISLAND, -- THE CHARACTER OF THE SOIL AND OF THE FRUIT.
"There is a tree, which is a stalk without any branch, the height of a lance, each leaf the length of a javelin, the fruit of the size and form of a cucumber, the bunch having twenty or thirty of them, with which the tree goes on bending down more and more as they grow: they are called plantanos in that country, are of good flavour, and will ripen after they are gathered, although they are better when they mature on the tree"
Though in fairness I should note that that the yellow sweet banana that we all know is a 19th Century mutation of the plantain.
Continuing my Google search I came across pawpaw :
"Pawpaw was first described by a Portuguese adventurer traveling with Hernando de Soto as the army of 600 men explored the southeastern states from 1539 to 1542.
For the next 200 years, little is heard of pawpaw until it was described by Mark Catesby in a history book. He included a full-sized painting of pawpaw."
Yes, at last clue, the "Portuguese adventurer" has to be Elvas who as he did in Cuba, particularly noted foodstuffs. Reading carefully the chapter:
WHICH SETS FORTH SOME OF THE DIVERSITIES AND PECULIARITIES OF FLORIDA; AND THE FRUIT, BIRDS, AND BEASTS OF THE COUNTRY.
"There is everywhere in the country a fruit, the produce of a plant like ligoacam, that is propagated by the Indians, having the appearance of the royal pear, with an agreeable smell and taste."
Which must be the source of the pawpaw reference. (I'd searched for "pears' rather than "pear" which had a number of letter string false positives) Still, what's a "ligoacam"? Searching for that term simply results in self referencing the Elvas account. Mystery solved at least partially.