I recently received word that I’ve been awarded a travel grant from the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Carl Taylor Grants provide funding for research or practice projects on topics relevant to the complex interrelationships among food production, diet, environment and public health.

I’ll be doing a reporting project that looks at whether the pawpaw, a delicious but little-known fruit native to the mid-Atlantic, has the potential to emerge as a more sustainable alternative to the banana and other tropical fruits on the American market. As part of the project, I’ll be creating a special pawpaw page on my website, posting interviews with pawpaw experts, and doing as much freelancing about the pawpaw as I can.  For now, here’s a brief excerpt from the grant proposal:

A little-noticed fruit tree called the pawpaw, which is native to the mid-Atlantic region and grows in 26 states across the eastern United States, has great but largely unrealized potential to offer Americans a local and sustainable alternative to bananas and other tropical fruit. The common pawpaw (asimina triloba), a small tree that grows in shady areas with well-drained soil, produces the largest indigenous edible fruit in North America. Pawpaw fruit, which looks similar to small mangos but has fleshy yellow interiors with the texture of custard, has an extremely sweet taste that is unique but has hints of banana, mango, and pineapple.

Pawpaw has a rich but largely forgotten place in the culinary history of the United States. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, many Native American tribes used to forage for wild pawpaw and made the fruit a regular part of their diets. Lewis and Clark wrote that pawpaw saved their expedition in 1810 when food supplies ran dangerously low.  And prior to the 1920s when the banana became a cheap and ubiquitous option on the American market,  Americans across wide swaths of the eastern United States used to eat wild pawpaw in the fall.  There’s even a popular children’s song about pawpaw that is still sung frequently today.