Way down yonder in the paw paw patch

Posted by | September 15, 2015

Call it the American Custard Apple or the West Virginia Banana, but it’s neither apple nor banana. It’s the Paw-paw (Asimina trilob), the largest native fruit of North America, and it grows throughout Appalachia. There are about seven other members of the genus Asimina, all growing in the southeastern U.S. Mature pawpaw trees produce fruits 2″ wide by 10″ long, which turn from green, to yellow, and then black as they ripen in the fall.

Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?
Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?
Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Come on, boys [or girls, or kids], let’s go find her,
Come on, boys, let’s go find her,
Come on, boys, let’s go find her,
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

—The Paw Paw Patch
Traditional folk song

Paw-paw fruits are rich in minerals such as magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, manganese, potassium, and phosphorus. The fruit also contains abundant concentrations of Vitamin C, proteins, and their derivative amino acids. The Peterson Field Guide mentions that the seeds, along with being an emetic, have narcotic properties.

Paw Paw treeThe paw-paw pulp may be eaten raw, made into ice cream, baked, or used as a pie filling. Some Appalachian cooks make a custard out of “Poppaws.” Seed them, mash them, add milk, a little sugar, an egg and some allspice. Pour the batter into custard cups and set those in a bread pan with some water in the bottom of the pan. Bake at a medium heat. Stick a broom straw or toothpick in, and when it comes up clean it’s done. Paw-paw also makes an excellent dry, white wine. It can be made from fresh or canned fruit.

The paw-paw is sensitive to ultraviolet light, thus, paw paw seedlings may not grow back after forests have been clear cut, and there are very few virgin forests left in the United States. Paw-paws can be found growing there abundantly, but once the forests are harvested, the paw paw will not usually re-establish.

sources: www.fred.net/kathy/pawpaws.html

19 Responses

  • JON says:


  • Privacy says:

    Contact Kentucky State University if you are interested in growing some PawPaws, they are trying to foster an industry. I am convinced there is a market.

  • Tom Moore says:

    Will pawpaw trees grow in Southwestern, Pa?

  • Dave Tabler says:

    Consider that Elbinsville, PA, in the southwest corner of the state, is only 34 miles from Paw Paw, WV, named for the famous tree that grows there. I’d say there’s a pretty strong chance they’ll grow in Southwestern Pennsylvania, yes.

  • lakotahope says:

    Paw paws grow all along the James river in the Richmond Va city limits

  • Growing up in southern West Va. makes me have very fond memories of going to pick paw paws with my Dad and Mom.I can see the old farm house sitting up on a slight hill with a rock wall that ran along the property line. My recollection is the pappaw trees were along the rock wall. The pappaws always turned black after a day or so and were rich tasting. I remenber them to have a black seed that was flat and hard. Never had any since my youth but remember going down to the pappaw patch more than once.Since Mom and Dad are gone I doubt I could even find the location but the memories remain clear.

  • Gerri Lynn BoydstUn says:

    My grandparents are all from Kentucky. My greats had moved to Oklahoma. Down in the SW corner. I now live in Colorado (n. central). Ain’t no pawpaws here! My grands and parents sang it to me and I sang it to mine. Along with… “Up up in the sky, where the little birds fly. Down, down in the nest, where the little birds rest…..”

  • Celli says:

    We used to play a game with music called The Paw Paw Patch when I was in preschool in Oklahoma. It was okay I suppose, but I found it to be a rather dull and pointless activity personally! I’m 59, love games and music but well, I suppose this is a good activity for preschool age children. I preferred all the other things we did but Paw Paw Patch is fun to explain to anyone that has never heard of it. I always assumed it was some sort of berry or fruit patch actually! =)

  • […] Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets, Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch. […]

  • […] Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets, Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets, Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets, Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch. […]

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  • Skye MacAllister says:

    Paw paws grow in Paw Paw, Michigan, so I’d guess Pennsylvania will work as well!

    Great website! :)

  • Michele Marlowe says:

    I live on a land trust in Real County, Texas, the hill country, and we try to raise a lot of our own food. I always heard of pawpaws and would love to grow them if we could get the kind of tree that would survive frost and hard freezes — I think anything that survives in Appalachia should survive here. I have a greenhouse with very high ceiling and have papaya seeds that probably came from Mexico. What do we do next? Appreciate any help!

  • Douglas Tritt says:


  • Cage Abshire says:

    Wild Paw paws usually taste like a cross between a banana and a very ripe mango. Though some might have a vanilla or strawberry taste mixed in there as well. The texture is sort of like a custard. The seeds are very large and easy enough to eat around.

    You will never see them in a store, though sometimes, rarely, you might find a very few at a fruit market in the early fall. The skin is too thin, the meat too soft and the ripe period too short (2-5 days) for normal fruit transport. They only grow in shady areas because the seedlings are VERY light sensitive, especially to any long sunlight from the west/southwest. This is why they grown under the shade of larger deciduous (leafy tree) vegetation. They are easy to ID because they’re leaves are so large and distinct.

    Though once extremely well known and popular throughout the eastern US, if you are under 40 yrs old, then they would be unknown to you…even the children’s songs about Paws Paws are no longer taught in school because children are no longer outdoor oriented. As a child we usually knew where ever single paw paw patch was within about 5 miles or so.

    Paws Paws grow wild out in the shady woods back in Kentucky and Ohio and, except for the kids that would stumble upon them to eat as they walked along, they mostly just rotted on the ground and flies and ants would eat them…unseen and unknown. Unfortunately, kids don’t walk in the woods or explore streams anymore (heck, they don’t even use the parks or playgrounds) so even that seems to have disappeared…along with the Paw Paw.

    Scouts not only learned about paws paws, but almost every child knew the Paw Paw Patch song either from Cub Scouts or taught in school… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnpLS5PNZpw

  • Colette Merchant says:

    My grandpa Bossier used to sing this song to me when I was little. He was a 7th generation Louisianaian.in Natchitoches there was a tribe of natiave Americans called The PawPaw tribe, so I thought it had something to do with that!

  • Janet Olney Lasley says:

    I planted a paw-paw four years ago, probably too close to a clearing. It now has produced another nearby. In the meantime under the deciduous trees a group of four has appeared over the last two years. So far no fruit but they are young. It takes at least two stands of paw-paw to allow for fruit to form. They send our shoots underground much like mayapple. Open deciduous forests are best…no honeysuckle!

  • Katerina Langley says:

    Weirdly, despite having no clue what a paw paw was, I have known that song so long that I don’t even know where I learned it: childhood friend? teacher? No idea. Last year I saw them in a catalog and bought a few young trees. The website says they will survive here and it won’t be clear cut so here’s hoping I can establish some. I’ve never tasted one but one day…

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