Our Good Neighbors and Friends (A Visit to Pawpaws Book 2)

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Ever helpful, loving, and loyal, Dick Stockwell was just the type of man to have around in time of need. Always willing to lend a helping hand, Dick could fix or repair just about anything, and he did so humbly. He had an uncanny sense of humor which often left those who didn't know him well feeling perplexed, but he filled the days of those who knew and loved him with much laughter and memories to last a lifetime. Gone but never to be forgotten, Dick will be sorely missed.

Dick's story began during the heyday of the Roaring Twenties.

Richard Stockwell : December 4, - May 14, | Paw Paw, MI

One of five children in the Stockwell home, Dick began his childhood growing up with his three brothers and sister. They made their home in Marine City where Dick enjoyed fishing and swimming on the St. Clair River and even got caught skinny dipping by the nuns while skipping school with several other boys. During Dick's childhood, the Roaring Twenties gave way to times of hardship with the onset of the Great Depression. Life for all was difficult, and many sacrifices were made adjusting to financial struggles from coast to coast.

It was especially hard on Dick when at a young age his parents sadly passed away. For months he lived with various relatives until his uncle Fr. Beauvais of Paw Paw, took Dick in and placed him under his wing. He graduated from Paw Paw High School in With his schooling behind him, Dick entered the service and joined the U. Marine Corp. Although always a humble man, Dick was extremely proud of his military career.

Until the last of his days, he considered himself a U. Dick returned home following his honorable discharge from the service and settled into civilian life once again. His efforts paid off and before he knew it his life was heading in new and exciting directions. This was especially true after meeting a young woman named Phyllis Smith, and Dick's life was forever changed.

The couple dated for a time, and after falling in love, they shared vows of marriage on June 19, Soon after beginning their new life together, Dick and Phyllis began a family of their own. With four children in tow, Dick worked hard to provide for his family. Phyllis made a good home for them, and usually doled out the discipline, too. Dick was a big softie when it came to his children, and everyone knew it!

Laurie, Mary, Richard, and Teresa made their lives complete. Marie in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

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And so I just wanted to learn more, so I just kept researching and and looking online and I met the people who are working with pawpaws and I was certain that I wanted to write a story because I realize it had a really compelling human story as well. What's it like to go pawpaw hunting?

It was just it was really fun to go to these places, whether it was wild patches on the banks of the Mississippi or whether it was Monticello in Mount Vernon or an experimental orchard where people were growing pawpaws and doing selective breeding. It was just a lot of fun to go to these places and and meet these people. Yeah, the pawpaw tree, and again it's confusing to me as to why it would be so unknown because the tree is beautiful as well. It has this lovely pyramidal shape when grown in full sun and it has these long tropical looking leaves.

There are among the broadest and a longest leaves you'll find in eastern forests and in fall they turn a striking yellow. It's native to 26 states in the eastern US and many of these rivers in these states are, in fact, lined with pawpaws in the deep alluvial rich soil and so that's a good place to start looking for them. Pawpaw gelato is one of the more popular creations made from the fruit.

MOORE: Right, well I call it the forgotten fruit - that's in the subtitle - certainly some people have maintained memories of pawpaws, but for the most part we stopped knowing pawpaws when we stopped going to the woods for food.

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In the middle of the last century with the rise of supermarkets and global food and industrialized foods, our diets became a lot more homogenized and industrial and something that you would have to go to the woods to gather was left by the wayside. And pawpaws not the only food certainly that we stopped eating and that we had neglected. There were so many heirloom fruits and vegetables - we had thousands of apples and old tomatoes.

And so pawpaw is among those fruits that were lost, but that thankfully we're seeing a revival of. CURWOOD: So, since it's free and available on the wild and such, what's your favorite survival story of somebody who needed the pawpaw to get over whatever challenge they were meeting? They had completely run out of food and all they had was the wild bounty of pawpaws.

Some people when they talk about it they'll say that the pawpaw saved them from hunger or they were near starvation, but in reality there were just so many pawpaws it was never a concern. They were all content and happy and just eating pawpaws for three days. There are some citations that survive that that we pawpaw people are thankful for.

The Iroquois, for one, are cited as having dried pawpaws and cooked them into corncakes, which I found fascinating because corn is low in niacin and pawpaw is high in this nutrient. It's high in antioxidants and some of the same antioxidants that are found in red wine and chocolate. We also know that is high in various vitamins, vitamins A, C, potassium. These old folkways, they develop for a reason and there's a lot of wisdom in them. MOORE: Enslaved African-Americans, they were looking to supplement diets if they had the liberty to pick things from the wild, pawpaws would've been one of those things that they could've gathered each year, as well on the Underground Railroad.

Slaves seeking freedom in the north, pawpaw would have kept people alive as they were going north. A pawpaw grown by Jerry Lehman weighs in at a whopping pound-and-a-half. MOORE: There were two prominent festivals that I went to when I was researching: the Ohio which is a large gathering now in its 17th year around 8, people come out every year for that, and then in North Carolina which was newer at the time which is also growing.

CURWOOD: And how do the people who hunted and ate pawpaws a long time ago, say as kids, how do they react now when they taste their first pawpaw in decades? We'd go on the river and pick them. It was like a family tradition to go and gather these things. MOORE: Yeah these days the skies the limit with what you can do with pawpaw and it's an interesting time.

There's some great recipes out there but I think the best things that you can do with the pawpaw are products yet to be seen as people start experimenting with it. I make a pretty good pawpaw ice cream, pawpaw gelatos, sorbets, these are all very wonderful. I didn't get a chance to drink all of them. People in and around Pittsburgh and in the Ohio Valley down through Ohio were making pawpaw brandy and liquor and beer, and it's been known to be a strong alcohol even from those days on through today.

MOORE: Often it's said that the pawpaw's short shelf life and it's fragility is why it has not been cultivated.

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That's a good starting place for talking about problems in domesticating the product. It is soft, and it does have a short shelf life, so it's not necessarily a fruit that lends itself well to sitting on the back of a truck and then going to distribution centers and then sitting on a supermarket shelf for several weeks. So it's just going to have a different niche.

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It's maybe not going to be something that is found across every Wal-Mart across the country, but it's more likely something that will be found at farmer's markets and local food co-ops. We're seeing that more and more from New York to Missouri, chefs are adding it into their menus and doing wonderful things to it. Author Andrew Moore found numerous pawpaw trees in easternmost Kentucky. Tell me his story. He was a graduate student at WVU and he tasted his first pawpaw along the banks of the Monongahela, and like myself and so many others, he was excited and eager to learn more, and as a plant scientist and a horticulturalist, Neal had the skills to try to do something with it, so he set about doing a breeding experiment, and he started crossing the country himself seeking out old plantings and old cultivars from 50, 60 years ago when people had a greater interest in pawpaw and had started selecting pawpaws and naming them.

So he planted two orchards with well over a thousand trees and after several decades selected the best pawpaws and released them to the public. Neal named his pawpaws after American rivers with Indian names in tribute to the original horticulturalists of the fruit - so Susquehanna, Shenandoah, Potomac - those are Neal's pawpaws and they're considered by many to be among the best that are available. It was that prize-winning fruit from the contest for the best pawpaws in America, and I spent about three days searching for it.