Pawpaw ice cream with unfamiliarity and added tropicality

Pawpaw ice cream

Even though we were raised within their growing range, pawpaws have been mostly a mystery to Gourmandistan. We were somewhat familiar with the song “Way Down Yonder In The Pawpaw Patch,” and were tempted many years ago by the offer of free pawpaw saplings from the Kentucky State University Land Grant Program. We turned them down, as we believed they would suffer the same fate as our other orchard (gnawed to death by deer). KSU is home to the world’s only “full-time pawpaw research program,” which seems to serve as the Internet’s primary source of pawpaw information. What is a pawpaw, you may ask? Let’s let the nice folks from KSU’s full-time program tell you:

The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit that is native to the United States. … [I]ndigenous to 26 states in the U.S., … [t]hey have provided delicious and nutritious food for Native Americans, European explorers and settlers, and wild animals.

Pawpaws also go by the names “poor man’s banana,” “Kentucky banana” and “American custard apple,” which give some idea of what the fruit tastes like. However, when Gourmandistan finally got our hands on some “Hoosier bananas” (yet another nickname), we found the flavors of banana and cherimoya (custard apple) were only the beginning of the pawpaw’s tropical tastes, especially after we decided to add some extra tropical notes.

Pawpaw ice cream

The market vendor Steve scored the pawpaws from advised eating them raw, but Steve had ice cream in mind from the start. He knew that Michelle, who disdains most fruits that aren’t cooked and sugared and has a particular aversion to tropical fruits, which she often describes as having a “whang,” would be more receptive to a frozen treat. Having eaten durian ice cream, where the rotting-onion-with-cheese flavor was throttled down through chilliness, Steve believed pawpaw ice cream would reduce any perceived “whang” to a more tolerable level while letting the uncooked pawpaw flavor remain. Michelle made a basic Alice Waters custard, which we combined with the mashed-banana-feeling pulp to make a heavy, custardy ice cream with an intriguing, mysterious tropical flavor—a combination of spicy, sweet, sour and some sort of tang Steve insisted on calling “Life Savers Tropical Fruit flavor.” Even the mango-hating Michelle was pleased.

Pawpaw ice cream

Steve suggested a chocolate sauce, and Michelle obliged, remembering a rum-spiked ice cream sauce from an old Maida Heatter cookbook. As predicted, the add-on proved to make the pawpaw ice cream even better. So while we have no idea if or when we’ll wander into a patch of pawpaws again, at least now (as long as there’s cream and a freezer about) we’ll know what to do.


  • Servings: about a quart of ice cream
  • Print

(Ice cream adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food and Kentucky State University/chocolate sauce adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts)

Pawpaw Ice Cream:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3/4 c. half and half
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. heavy cream
  • 2 pints of pawpaws
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Set a fine-meshed strainer over a heatproof bowl.

Whisk egg yolks together in a small bowl.

Heat half and half and sugar over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. When hot, whisk a bit of the hot mixture into the egg yolks. Then, mix the warmed yolks into the hot mixture in the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Do not let it come to a boil. Strain.

When custard has cooled slightly, add heavy cream. Cover and chill overnight.

Clean pawpaws, discarding the skin and seeds. Place pulp in the bowl of a food processor and process. You should have about 1-1/2 c. (12 ounces) of pulp. Squeeze lime juice over.  Add honey, vanilla and salt and process again until smooth.

Stir pawpaw mixture into custard.  Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.

Rum Chocolate Sauce:

  • 1 stick (8 TB) butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. cocoa powder, strained through a fine sieve
  • 2 TB dark rum
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.  Add sugar, cocoa powder, rum, cream and salt. Stir over medium heat with a wooden spoon until mixture comes to a boil. Turn down heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Stir in espresso powder and vanilla.



    • Now these are different than yours (which we call papayas, right?). I wish I’d taken a photo of them, but they were so ugly, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm. The inside is yellow with lots of black seeds.

      • Ahhh yes, we normally call ours papayas too – to be honest I thought they were the same thing…? Maybe not. Our papayas are pinkish orange inside with a whole heap of black seeds, like peppercorns. From the outside they look incredibly ugly and rotten – but the bright interior makes up for it!

  1. The ice-cream looks fantastic! I’ve never had a paw-paw, but have always been curious. A branch of my family settled into Paw Paw, Illinois around 1842, then moved around the time of the Civil War. I wonder if they ate paw paws there.

  2. I think I´ve never even heard of pawpaws, but you obviously have made a treat out of it. May I suggest you bring a batch to my house soon when we´re going to have veal liver together? 🙂

    • These are different that what you all have, I think. Aren’t what you have what we would call papayas? (I agree with you. I hate their texture… Actually, I hate the texture of both. So bring on the ice cream!)

  3. I’ve never eaten a pawpaw but I can say that I’d most definitely prefer it in this form. And that silky chocolate sauce looks very seductive in your photo.

    I must know: Did you make the durian ice cream or eat it elsewhere? I imagine it’s the whangiest fruit there is!

    • Steve

      No making, Sacha, as I’m quite daunted by the durian’s rotted-onions-and-cheese smell. I’ve only been brave enough to eat the ice cream, where the odor is much reduced.

  4. I wonder why I can’t buy pawpaws in the Northeast. Do they not travel well? Or is there simply no market for them among Yankees? My takeaway from this post will be the chocolate sauce!

    • Steve

      I don’t think they do travel well, which may contribute to their lack of availability. KSU, however, is most likely working on a solution!

  5. Here in southern Africa we call papaya pawpaws, which also makes a terrific ice cream (I used to live in Virginia and tasted your indigenous pawpaw there). I’m crazy about turning wild food into gourmet, and wish I could try this yummy looking dessert. Thank you for yet another inspiring post (off I go a-foraging deep in the African bush … ha,ha).

  6. My mother used to have a really prolific paw paw tree in her backyard (they seem to grow well where we live in Australia also). I’m not a huge fan of them, though I do admit that they taste better with lime juice. This ice cream sounds delicious though! You make me want to re-visit cooking with paw paw fruit (I think I’ve eaten too many in my life, I don’t really bother with them anymore!) x

    • Laura, I think what you all have is a bit different than this strange Appalachian fruit. The flesh of this is yellow. Yours kind of orange, right? Either way, IMHO, they benefit greatly from being turned into ice cream. Because otherwise, yuck. (Though Steve would disagree with me.) 🙂

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