Paw Paws, Ju Jubes, and Other Rare Fruits

October 24, 2007

The PA Backyard Fruit Growers Association held their annual fruit tasting this past weekend. Once again the event was hosted by White Oak Nursery, an Amish farm and orchard just outside of Lancaster PA.

While the most common fruit at the tasting was the apple, there were a number of rare and unusual types of fruits available for sampling including; paw paws, cactus pears, ju jube fruits (aka Chinese dates), home grown nuts, hardy kiwis, and assorted varieties of persimmons.

These fruits may sound foreign and exotic, but they were all grown and harvested from the landscapes and gardens of the association’s members, or in some cases picked from trees growing wild in the local countryside.

In Search of the Wild Paw Paws

Paw Paw FruitsPaw Paws grow wild in Pennsylvania and I took advantage of the opportunity to try this unusual fruit for the first time. They resemble a small, elongated mango and the fruits contain a custard like flesh that is extremely sweet. I was surprised by how much I liked the taste of the Paw Paw fruits.

You’ll probably never find PawPaws for sale, but the Fruit Growers Association hosts a couple of tours each fall where the members go out in search of wild Paw Paw trees in order to enjoy this uncommon and delicious fruit. Some also collect seeds from the wildcrafted fruits so that they can grow their own backyard Paw Paw trees.

According to reports this year’s harvest was a little disappointing, but next year is expected to be much better. I’ll mark my calendar just as soon as the dates are set, and will be sure to participate in the next Paw Paw expedition.

So Much for Chinese Dates

Another new experience for me was sampling the Jujube fruits. Unfortunately this one wasn’t quite as delightful as the Paw Paws. Ju Jube fruits also go by the name of Chinese dates and they do resemble a date in many ways… except for the flavor.

Ju Jube FruitThese were fresh JuJubes but they seemed a bit dry, mealy, and without a hint of juice or moisture inside. The fruits were round, brownish-orange colored, and about the size of a small walnut. There appeared to be tiny edible seeds inside, but not much in the way of flavor to distinguish this slightly sweet fruit.

I’ll keep an open mind on this one, maybe these particular Chinese dates weren’t harvested at the peak of ripeness, had been held in storage prior to the tasting, or maybe it just wasn’t a good season for Jujubes… whatever the case, this fruit didn’t really strike me as something special to blog about.

Ever Taste a Hardy Kiwi Fruit?

Another unusual fruit that I’ve been anxious to taste and grow is the Hardy Kiwi. Now before you get excited and say “who in the world hasn’t tasted a kiwi,” let me explain that hardy kiwis are different from the fuzzy variety that is common at just about any grocer.

Hardy Kiwi FruitsHardy Kiwis are much smaller, about the size of a large grape. The fruit’s skin is smooth like a grape and does not require peeling before eating. Kiwi culture is also similar to that of grapes. The plants grow as a vine and require strong support and annual pruning for the best production and quality.

This was another new fruit introduction that I really enjoyed and plan to cultivate in my own edible landscape one day soon. I was surprised to walk into the store and see a small (as in tiny) container of hardy kiwi fruits for sale at the supermarket recently… but the prices they were charging for a handful of kiwis only added additional incentive for me to grow this one myself!

The New Persimmons on the Block

Persimmons are another fruit that borders on the fringe of respectability and has been gaining in popularity along with the Asian Pears. There were close to ten different varieties of persimmons in the line up at last weekend’s fruit tasting.

I’m a long time fan of persimmons, but have not had much experience with the non-astringent types that can be eaten when the fruits are still hard. Most of the varieties at the tasting were of this type and served in their crisp-firm state of ripeness.

The native Wild American Persimmons are my favorite persimmon of choice. These fruits are less than half the size of the Asian varieties and must be allowed to fully ripen and become soft before eating. However in my book they are much sweeter, more flavorful and as close as it gets to harvesting candy from a tree!

Other Familiar but Rare Backyard Fruits

Cactus PearsThe other featured fruits that would not be found growing in the typical backyard garden were Asian pears and cactus pears. There was also a selection of fresh home grown walnuts and pecans that were pretty tasty.

A lot less exotic were the various heirloom pears and antique apples on display at the fruit tasting event. These may have been a bit more recognizable, but they were far from common or ordinary, as there were close to a hundred different apple varieties most of which are seldom seen or tasted these days.

Later this week I’ll share a partial listing of the many unique and interesting heirloom apples that are being grown in gardens, orchards, and backyards by members of the PA Backyard Fruit Growers Association.

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  • Mel J Vogel

    Thank you for your report – I’d love to hear more about the varieties of heirloom apples that you experienced! I’m a gleaner, of sorts, at a delicious apple tree nearby my “work” = office… they grow yearly without fanfare or sprays – and while most that I gather from the ground are not picture perfect – they are DELICIOUS, and they are ALL mine, mine, mine i.e. the neighbors, renters, and college kids that frequent the area and sidewalk about the tree seem entirely uninterested… oh well their LOSS my GAIN. P.S. As the season winds down and the weather cools down I’ve stepped – i.e. will be stepping up my efforts to rescue more picture perfect apples from their impending fall(s) to the ground through the use of my football… P.S.S. Please don’t tell anyone, thank you! Sincerely, Mel J. Vogel Rock Island, IL (Home of the Blues Brothers!)

  • Dont give up on Jujube. They are best when eaten soon after picking. The ones you sampled sounded like they had a few days on them. Also, There are many different varieties. I like the fruit from my Sherwood tree. It gets really sweet and is very crunchy like an apple.

  • Kenny Point

    Ben, I haven’t given up on the Jujube fruits and will try them again, thanks for the info and the fruits at the tasting did look like they may have been sitting around for a few days. Mel, your secret is safe with me and the funny thing is that you could probably post a sign that said “Free Apples” and people would still ignore and walk right by that tree. I’ll try to post the article about the apple varieties at the fruit tasting a little later this week.

  • Its nice to find out what others are growing around you. And go for it Mel, I know I would.

  • The JuJube Trees, I have two different kinds and I live in Northern Calif. Out of all my fruit that come off my two differnet trees, they are not worth all the effort that I put into my fruit trees. Maybe a handfull after trying lots of different jujube. They’re dry and not all are sweet. I’m always looking for something different to grow. What does good in snow or 100 degrees is Loguart trees and there are heirlooms. All my seed are true Loquart, not grafted. I planted and planted Paw Paw trees with no Luck. Maybe it’s to cold, I live in Zone 7. Should I keep trying or do they need humidity.
    I love the challenge. Thank you, Linda

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Linda, as Ben suggested above a lot may depend on the variety of Jujube that you are growing. I have a friend that has a mature jujube tree that bears a lot of great tasting fruit with no care at all. I have never tried growing Paw Paw trees myself, but I know that they do grow wild here in Pennsylvania. I would try to get in touch with someone affiliated with the California Fruit Growers organization, which may have a chapter in your area and can probably provide you with assistance and recommendations for unusual fruits that are suitable for your climate.

  • mischa

    Hi there! The chinese tend to use the jujubes in cooking rather than as a fruit eaten when fresh. It can be added to stews or eaten as a dessert. My favourite is when it is cooked (as a dessert) with sheets of dried tofu (fu chuk in cantonese) and pearl barley with just a bit of rock sugar to sweeten.

    Otherwise cook in as a pork/chicken stew with 2-3 pieces of Chinese Herbs (tong kuai) and dried goji berries. (this dish is said to be especially nutritious for women who have just given birth)

  • looking for growers of pomegrantes fruit

  • Jay

    I love fruits!

  • I found your web-site tonight. This morning a friend of mine gave me a Pa-Paw and a pint of Pa-Paw fruit which was frozen. I made some Pa-Paw cookies tonight and like them very much. I am 75 years of age and have never see a Pa-Paw.

  • Hi. As an FYI, the Asian cactus pears are actually native to Central America, although it took the Asian market to recognize their potential. You can see the “dragon fruit” cactus (Hylocereus) climbing up trees all around Miami, but they rarely fruit because the flowers don’t get pollinated. Now there’s an interest in growing them as a crop, especially by backyard gardeners like me, but when mine eventually flowers (and they open at about midnight) I’m told I’ll have to hand pollinate them.

  • Eric Rohland

    I have looked high and low for why my self polinating kiwis flowers keep falling off year after year. The plant grows like a weed and has many flowers but in 7 years has never produced a single fruit. I live in western Washington can you help me Kenny? Thanks Eric

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Eric, as far as I know there are no self pollinating varieties of kiwi and they all need a separate plant of the opposite sex in order to yield fruit. You may be able to identify the sex of your plant from its flowers and then plant the appropriate pollinator.

  • Eric Rohland

    Hi again Kenny. Actinidia arguta ‘issai’ is the kiwi that I have. Would send a picture of flower but don’t know how. Someone just got back to me the same time that you did and said that issai is not a reliable self fertile plant and needs a male plant to help. Love your site and the pure way you write. Eric

  • Charlie Boring

    I have been growing Hardy Kiwi vines for about 7 years in Northern Virginia. I had to move the vines three years ago. Last year one of the female vines produced their first blossums, but they fell off and produced no friut. I suppose the move of the vines delayed fruit production. I hope to get some this next year. I am planting a Li and a Sherwood jujube this coming spring. I have already planted seeds for three paw paw trees, which should germinate next April/May. I love your site.

  • Charlie Boring


    If you are planting Paw Paw seeds, Pawpaw seed is slow to germinate, but it is not difficult to grow seedlings if certain procedures are followed. Do not allow the seed to freeze or dry out, because this can destroy the immature, dormant embryo. If seeds are dried for 3 days at room temperature, the germination percentage can drop to less than 20%. To break dormancy, the seed must receive a period of cold, moist stratification for 70-100 days. This may be accomplished by sowing the seed late in the fall and letting it overwinter; the seed will germinate the following year in late July to late August. Another way is to stratify the seed in the refrigerator (32o- 40o F/0o- 4o C).

  • Luke Confidential

    Issai is indeed listed as being self-pollinating, but it’s supposed to get much better yields with a male plant nearby.

    Seems plausible the nursery accidentally sold him some other cultivar. [As a note regarding the ‘grows like a weed’ bit, Issai is supposedly the least vigorous Hardy Kiwi [more vigorous than Arctic, but less vigorous than other Hardy cultivars] so that might be an indicator of your problem.]

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