Friday, September 27, 2013

Ohio Pawpaw Festival - Lake Snowden

The Ohio Pawpaw Festival is a three day celebration of all things pawpaw!  This year was the 15th year for the annual south-eastern Ohio festival.  I went to my first pawpaw festival in 2007 when I was a student at Ohio University and have made it back for several festivals in between that first year and the 2013 festival.  I've written a little bit about the pawpaw on my blog before (click here, here and here for some of my pawpaw photography).

The pawpaw is a tree native to Ohio with a very unique fruit (also the largest fruit native to the U.S.)!  The fruit, which is soft like a custard (or pudding) tastes like a combination of banana, mango and vanilla.  This fruit is unique and unfamiliar to Americans today because the pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) belongs to the tropical plant family Annonaceae, the majority of the plants in this family are found in the tropics, like soursop, custard-apple and cherimoya.  The fruit is also highly perishable and more likely to be found on a hike in the woods than at your local grocery store (though you can find it some farmers' markets!)  

Pawpaws used to be more popular and well known.  Native Americans enjoyed the fruit and so did early pioneers.  George Washington's favorite dessert is said to be chilled pawpaw.  Then there's the American folk song about picking pawpaws:

Where, oh where is dear little Nellie?
Where, oh where is dear little Nellie?
Where, oh where is dear little Nellie?
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch

Pickin' up pawpaws, puttin' 'em in your pocket
Pickin' up pawpaws, puttin' 'em in your pocket
Pickin' up pawpaws, puttin' 'em in your pocket
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch  

Like many things that seemed to be more common (gardening, home canning, wild food foraging) when our parents or grandparents or even great-grandparents were young, pawpaws slowly became a thing of the past and few people today seem to know what they are.

The Ohio Pawpaw Festival aims to change that!  Chris Chmiel, of Integration Acres in Athens along with the Albany Business & Community Development committee and the Albany Riding Club, started the pawpaw festival in 1999 to raise awareness about this native, but forgotten fruit.  Over the years the festival has grown into an annual three day event in September, complete with pawpaw food and drink, lectures and workshops, arts and crafts, music, competitive games and outdoor recreational activities.

Three tents at the festival are dedicated to workshops and lectures about the pawpaw and other interesting topics.  This year the Pawpaw Tent included a variety of pawpaw related presentations from Cooking With Pawpaws with Chef Dave Rudie to Adventures & Misadventures with Pawpaws with Neal Peterson to Pawpaws in the 21st Century with Ron Powell.  The Ohio Country Fair Tent had a wide variety of special interest topics including Gluten Free Baking with Michelle Pride, Vermicomposting with John Craig, Backyard Chickens with Michelle Miller and Outdoor Yoga Flow with Jen Mainelli.  The East of the River Shawnee Schedule included presentations on Native Wisdom and Traditional Respect, live drumming and flute playing and The Roles of Women in Native Society.  Kenneth and I were able to attend the Gluten Free Baking workshop this year which was fantastic!  A few years ago, we attended a workshop on community orchards and helped plant apple trees on the festival grounds at Lake Snowden (we were able to visit these trees at the festival this year, they're doing great!).  

The festival features amazing pawpaw drinks and food.  The food vendors are a wonderful sampling of all of the delicious food I enjoyed during my four years living in Athens as a student at Ohio University.  Some of my favorite vendors at the festival include: the Burrito Buggy, the Herbal Sage, Ali Baba's Kitchen, Real Food and Casa Nueva.  This year the Pawpaw Beer garden included six pawpaw beers and pawpaw soda.  Beer drinkers were encouraged to vote for their favorite beer:

Jackie O's Brewing Co - Pawpaw Wheat
Black Box Brewing Co. - Cookie Duster
Buckeye Brewing - Pawpaw Wheat
Weasel Boy Brewing Co. - Weasel Paw
Marietta Brewing Co. - Putnam's Pawpaw Ale
Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. - Pawpaw Saison
Athens Do It Yourself Shop - Non-alcoholic Pawpaw Soda

I love attending the Pawpaw Festival - it feels like coming home to Athens and the wonderful community in southeastern Ohio!  This year Kenneth and I enjoyed the festival by attending a workshop, spending forever picking out pawpaw t-shirts (I've never seen so much variety in color, size and style for one festival!), visiting with friends from Athens, watching competitors try out the Pawpaw Gauntlet Obstacle Course and just relaxing with good food and drink.  

The Pawpaw Festival is about pawpaws, but I think it's become more than that.  It's about community and a connection with the earth.  The festival is the most environmentally conscious festival I've been to, which mirrors the eco-friendly actions of the surrounding community.  If you lived nearby or were staying in a hotel, you could take a shuttle to the festival from several different locations in Athens and Albany.  The trash receptacles at the festival included recycling and composting bags.  The goal for the festival is to be zero waste (nothing going to the to landfill) and food vendors have to use compostable serving ware only.  The music stage is solar powered and many of the workshops and lectures focused on returning to nature, either through growing pawpaws and persimmons (another native fruit tree), vermicomposting, keeping backyard chickens or bees or learning about alternative energy.

There is no way I can encompass everything thing that is the pawpaw festival in one little blog post.  You have to experience this one for yourself!  The 16th Ohio Pawpaw Festival will be September 12-14, 2014.  Plan to be there!

Pawpaws in the News:
Passion for Pawpaws by Vivan Wagner in AmericanProfile
The Pawpaw: Foraging For America's Forgotten Fruit by Allison Aubrey for NPR blog, The Salt