The sky is streaked with pink and purple over the barn and, just behind it, the pawpaw trees loom, tall and strange, spade-shaped leaves sheltering clusters of fruit, fragrant in the cool autumn air.
A few nights ago I was able, after a sunset drive an hour west of Philadelphia, to spend a few hours catching up with friends at Brooklyn Brewery's Philly MASH event at Green Meadow Farm. It was my second visit to the farm, my first having occurred over a decade ago when I was first starting out working in local food in Philadelphia. Even then, farmer Glenn Brendle of Green Meadow was well known among Philadelphia's chefs for his micro greens, interesting herbs, and his ability to speak the language of city cooks in a pre-farm-to-table restaurant world.
Ian Brendle, Glenn's son, now has more responsibility than ever on the farm and it was Ian who, once conversations had lingered and darkness had fallen, walked a few of us over to the pawpaw trees, up-lighting them with his cell phone flashlight, handing down one cluster of fruit and then another
Pawpaws, for the uninitiated, are unlike any other fruit that grows in Southeastern Pennsylvania. They look something like green mangoes, marked with a bruise-y shadow when fully ripe and sweet, and their texture is between that of papaya and pear, custardy, but with a slight sandiness. Pawpaw enthusiasts swoon over their uncannily tropical, sharp, banana-mango flavor and their singularity. Though the fruit is native to the midatlantic region, they taste as though they have no business being from here.
To be honest, I've never fully appreciated pawpaws, or at least not to the point where I go out of my way to track them down as autumn's chill sets in. This time of year I'm typically too focused on finding a few more grapes, or too busy rushing to can tomatoes before I miss my chance. Even so, I would never say no to a gift, and for the next two days two pawpaws sat on my kitchen counter, perfuming the room.
Ian's recommendation was to pair them with dairy, to mellow their characteristic tang, so before they grew too dark I carefully peeled them, pulling as much flesh from the seeds as I could, before pureeing them and caramelizing the flesh with sugar into a cup of jam. The jam I swirled into a batch of ice cream, based on that by Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream, which I believe to be the most exceptional recipe anywhere. I scented local cream with lime to accentuate the pawpaw's tropical flavor. The result?
Dense, chewy ice cream with a golden ribbon of caramelized pawpaw and the bright aroma of lime. Next year I'll have to tell Ian to save me a few.
Lime Ice Cream with Pawpaw Jam Swirl
Yield: I generous quart
By all means, if you can get your hands on more than 2 pawpaws feel free to double the jam recipe. Swirl in as much as you like and reserve the rest for eating with yogurt. Also, if your ice cream maker requires that the canister be frozen overnight, make sure that it is ready. Alternately, prepare and cool ice cream base and jam overnight while the canister freezes, and freeze the ice cream the following day.
2/3 cup pawpaw pulp (from 2 large pawpaws, peeled, seeded and pureed)
1/3 cup (70 grams) sugar
Lime Ice Cream Base
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
2 2/3 cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons (14 grams) cornstarch
4 Tablespoons (57 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
1/4 cup (90 grams) light corn syrup
lime zest from 1 whole lime, peeled with a vegetable peeler
4 1/2 teaspoons sugar, for lime syrup
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from 2-3 limes), for lime syrup
1. Make lime syrup by stirring together sugar and lime juice until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
2. Make pawpaw jam by combining pawpaw pulp and sugar into a small saucepan. Cook mixture, stirring periodically, over medium heat until sugar melts and it begins to bubble thickly. When it begins to darken slightly, remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
3. Make ice cream base: Make a slurry by mixing cornstarch and 2-3 tablespoons of milk together in a small bowl. Whisk softened cream cheese in a medium-large bowl until smooth and glossy. In a large saucepan, combine remaining milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup and lime zest. Bring to a boil and boil - stirring and lowering heat as necessary to prevent the mixture from boiling over - for 4 minutes. Remove pot from heat and drizzle in cornstarch slurry, stirring. Return mixture to heat and cook until slightly thickened, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Finish and cool the base by drizzling hot milk into bowl with cream cheese, mixing until well combined. Add lime syrup and stir to combine. Half fill a large bowl with ice and nestle the ice cream base bowl into it to cool it quickly. When ice cream base mixture is cooled to room temperature, transfer it to a large jar and place it into the refrigerator to cool thoroughly.
5. Freeze the ice cream according to the manufacturer's instructions of your ice cream maker. Spread a spoonful of pawpaw jam on the bottom of your ice cream storage container, follow with a layer of ice cream, spreading out to create layers. Repeat, alternating, until both jam and ice cream are used up. Press a sheet of parchment paper against the surface of ice cream and cover. Allow ice cream to cure in freezer for at least 4 hours before serving.