Historic pawpaws making a comeback

November 14, 2012
Bridgeville farmer Charlie Smith is proud of his recently planted pawpaw trees. BY RON MACARTHUR

Ever heard of pawpaws? There is a good chance that you haven't, but the fruit has a long history in North America dating back to at least the 1500s. Some say it's the only native American fruit.

The fruit played a key role as a food source for Native Americans, European settlers, other settlers moving westward and wild animals.

It's hard to underestimate the importance of pawpaws to the first settlers who moved westward. Many subsisted on wild game and on highly nutritious pawpaws that grew wild throughout the country. It's reported that Lewis and Clark depended on pawpaws and nuts when their rations were low and game was scarce. George Washington liked pawpaws, and Thomas Jefferson cultivated them at Monticello.

Over the years, pawpaws became less popular and were replaced by other cultivated fruits brought from other countries including apples and pears.

Now, pawpaws are making a comeback, and a Sussex County farmer is among those starting to grow the fruit again.

Charlie Smith, one of three brothers who owns T.S. Smith & Sons in Bridgeville, has recently planted a stand of pawpaws on the family's 800-acre farm. Smith, who is proud of his crop, calls pawpaws the next big thing on the horizon.

As the young trees begin to grow, Smith says he is battling against hungry deer who live in a nearby woods and love to eat the leaves.

He's come up with an ingenious idea in an effort to keep deer away from his precious pawpaws. He's filled small bags made of dryer sheets with manure and tied one bag to each tree. Smith is banking on the manure smell to keep deer away.

While many of us are pawpaw ignorant, the fruit is well-known in some areas west of us. Albany, Ohio, had its 14th annual Pawpaw Festival Sept. 14-16 with a variety of events including cooking contests, eating contests, a bicycle ride and prizes for the largest and best-looking pawpaw.

Pawpaw chunking anyone?


  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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