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Pawpaw Cheesecake w/ Spiced Rum Drizzle and Toasted Pine Nuts

Pawpaw Cheesecake w/ Spiced Rum Sauce

Pawpaw Cheesecake - made from locally picked wild Maryland pawpaws

People often make the joke of “famous last words,” but I assure you that few are as innocuous as the ones that prompted Sarah and I to go bushwhacking in the relative jungles of the Potomac River.

“Pawpaws are in season!” Her father said. She kindly passed the message along.

Naturally, I responded, “The whats are in season?”

“You’ve never heard of a pawpaw?”

“No,” I shrugged, “but I also didn’t know that Mexico and Texas were attached until I was sixteen.”

“Then where did you think TexMex came from?”

“Food trucks.”

“Mmm.” She politely looked away. “Pawpaws are a kind of fruit that grow in this area. My dad told me we can find them around Great Falls Park if you want to come look with me.”

“What do they taste like?”

“Like bananas. Or mangos. Or pineapples?”

“…Ponangos?”

“Yes,” she agreed. “Like that.”

Well, I decided, there could be nothing better than ponangos. So off we went: enthusiastic for adventure, beaming with excitement at the prospect of picking wild fruit off the land, ready to scour the woods for mother nature’s greatest gift – and just as ready to get home after we’d investigated miles of the towpath and hiked for two hours up and down the Billy Goat Trail.

“I don’t understand,” Sarah muttered. “The trees are everywhere.” And literally, the trees are everywhere. They’re growing all along the riverbank, down every offshoot of trail, up and down the canal, between rocks – they’re even growing alongside the parking lot. “…But there’s no fruit.”

Now, herein lies the first of many problems. This is a picture of a pawpaw forest:

Photo Credit: David Smith
Photo Credit: David Smith, http://www.delawarewildflowers.org/

See any fruit in this picture? No? Perhaps you might want to look up:

Photo Credit: http://rampages.us/fosskd15/author/fosskd15/
Photo Credit: http://rampages.us/fosskd15/author/fosskd15/

Still don’t see anything? Me neither. Here’s why:

Photo Credit: http://www.loudounwildlife.org/HHPawPaw.html
Credit:http://www.loudounwildlife.org/HHPawPaw.html

As you can see, in a crowded forest of large green leaves, pawpaws can be a little hard to distinguish.

Thankfully, if you do happen to spot some fruit, you can shake the trees and any ripe pawpaws will fall gently to the floor like anti-gravity pillows, caressing you lightly on their downward path as if they were tender baby kisses on the cheek.

Except they won’t. They’ll actually hit you in the face. It hurts.

As I learned the hard way, shaking a tree and looking straight up is a bad idea. Besides the mild pawpaw-punch-in-the-face you’ll receive, you may also find yourself making dozens of one-sided friendships with eight-legged creatures.

Oh, yeah, that’s the other thing. Since we couldn’t find fruit along the canal or down the path, we decided to brave the denser off-trail areas only to realize that we’d trapped ourselves in any reasonable person’s nightmare.

The forests are saturated with spiders.

And I don’t mean the normal amount of spiders you find in forests. The great thing about pawpaw trees (for spiders, anyway) is that they’re narrow, close together, and have branches bent at perfect angles for building webs that span the entire height and width of your body.

After becoming fed up with the very considerate, very sweet smooches of several dozens of spiders, I ripped a dead tree out of the ground and proceeded to swing it in front of me in order to break the booby-trapped maze of webs. And I really do mean tree. It was bigger than I was and completely impractical. (I was pretty mad at that point. I have a picture of all the spider bites I accumulated, but Sarah convinced me nobody wants to see that, so I refrained from posting it.) She went for a smaller branch, and subsequently, it appeared to any onlookers that I was fighting invisible ogres as Sarah practiced wizardry in the background.

But the good news is that the fruit does exist, and if you wander around and are willing to destroy the homes of every arachnid in your path, you’ll come across them eventually.

(Shaking the trees seemed to be the best way since the ones on the ground were already dinner for a host of insects – but, if you do decide to shake the trees, be careful where you place your hands on the trunks. They’re ALSO covered in spiders. Surprise!)

When you do finally get your pawpaws, prepare for a wondrous experience of taste and texture. They’re like a fusion of bananas and pineapples, they’re creamy like custard, and though they’re incredibly delicious and not quite like anything I’ve ever tasted, they’re also out to kill you just as much as their forest guardians. (The seeds are poisonous.)

Search at your own peril, but remember, great risks yield great rewards…

(Click here for the text-only recipe.)

Pawpaw Cheesecake w/ Spiced Rum Sauce

Pawpaw Cheesecake - made from locally picked wild Maryland pawpaws

Pawpaw Cheesecake2
So you’ve decided to brave the forest! Now that you’ve compulsively eaten yourself sick on one of nature’s best-flavored candies, here’s a new way to use your pawpaw stash. Prepare yourself; this combination will send you straight back into the woods.

(And if you haven’t already been out there, here’s a quick reminder of what you’re looking for: the most fruited trees are closer to water, shaking them will release the fruit, pawpaws are ripe when they’re squishy and their smell is potent, be wary of spiders, and don’t eat the seeds or skin. There are about two weeks or so before the pawpaw season is over, so get out there while you still can!)

Ingredients for the Cheesecake:

  • 1 graham cracker pie crust
  • two 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar (or Splenda; we used half and half)
  • 1/2 cup pawpaw pulp

Ingredients for the Spiced Rum Drizzle:

  • 1 and 1/4 cups of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup of spiced rum (we used Captain Morgan)
  • OPTIONAL: 1/2 cup pine nuts

Pawpaw Cheesecake - made from locally picked wild Maryland pawpaws

How to Put It in Your Mouth:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, blend the cream cheese with a hand mixer on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes until smooth
  3. Add the egg yolk and beat until completely integrated
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition
  5. Add the sugar 1/3 cup at a time
  6. In a separate bowl, beat the pawpaw pulp (sans skin and seeds) until smooth. This will ensure there aren’t large chunks in your cake.
  7. Add the pawpaws to the cream cheese mixture and beat until completely incorporated.
  8. Pour the mixture into your crust and smooth the top.
  • Baking instructions:
    • Put the pie in an oven-safe container
    • Add boiling water to the container until it reaches about halfway up the pie tin
    • Bake for about 45 minutes. The cheesecake should jiggle slightly, but should not look watery when it’s ready to come out of the oven.
    • After cooling to room temperature, let the cheesecake chill in the fridge overnight.

For the Spiced Rum Sauce:

  1. Heat a pot or pan and add the spiced rum, letting simmer until reduced by about half
  2. Slowly pour in the condensed milk, whisking constantly
  3. While whisking, allow the mixture to bubble up slightly – be careful here, as it’s incredibly hot and can overflow – and then reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
  4. Simmer gently and whisk for about 5 minutes until the mixture is thickened but still slightly runny, then turn off the heat and allow to cool. As it goes down to room temperature, it’ll thicken further.
  • OPTIONAL: toast the pine nuts by swirling them in a pan over medium heat.

Pawpaw Cheesecake - made from locally picked wild Maryland pawpaws

Now slice up your cheesecake (best done with a thin, non-serrated blade that’s been run under hot water and dried, if you’re worried about looks), top with the drizzle and toasted pine nuts, and get ready to put your hiking boots back on…

Enjoy!

Photography by Sarah Alice Photography (sarahalice.net)


Text-only recipe.

Pawpaw Cheesecake w/ Spiced Rum Sauce

Ingredients for the Cheesecake:

  • 1 graham cracker pie crust
  • two 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar (or Splenda; we used half and half)
  • 1/2 cup pawpaw pulp

Ingredients for the Spiced Rum Sauce:

  • 1 and 1/4 cups of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup of spiced rum (we used Captain Morgan)
  • OPTIONAL: 1/2 cup pine nuts

How to Put It in Your Mouth:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, blend the cream cheese with a hand mixer on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes until smooth
  3. Add the egg yolk and beat until completely integrated
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition
  5. Add the sugar 1/3 cup at a time
  6. In a separate bowl, beat the pawpaw pulp (sans skin and seeds) until smooth. This will ensure there aren’t large chunks in your cheesecake.
  7. Add the pawpaws to the cream cheese mixture and beat until completely incorporated.
  8. Pour the mixture into your crust and smooth the top.
  • Baking instructions:
    • Put the pie in an oven-safe container
    • Add boiling water to the container until it reaches about halfway up the pie tin
    • Bake for about 45 minutes. The cheesecake should jiggle slightly, but should not look watery when it’s ready to come out of the oven.
    • After cooling to room temperature, let the cheesecake chill in the fridge overnight.

For the Spiced Rum Sauce:

  1. Heat a pot or pan and add the spiced rum, letting simmer until reduced by about half
  2. Slowly pour in the condensed milk, whisking constantly
  3. While whisking, allow the mixture to bubble up slightly – be careful here, as it’s incredibly hot and can overflow – and then reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
  4. Simmer gently and whisk for about 5 minutes until the mixture is thickened but still slightly runny, then turn off the heat and allow to cool. As it goes down to room temperature, it’ll thicken further.
  • OPTIONAL: toast the pine nuts by swirling them in a pan over medium heat.

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