Vegetable, fruit, meat tenderiser — the pawpaw is all of these, and effortless to cultivate. In fact, pawpaw trees are so prolific, most people don’t bother planting them anymore — they just spring up in your yard. They vary in size and shape and can be as small as a billiard ball or bigger than a grapefruit, spherical or long and pointed. Pawpaws are bright orange when ripe, with edible flesh of the same colour and large numbers of small black seeds surrounded by a gelatinous substance.

The pawpaw or papaya was introduced in the 1600s from Central America and is now widely naturalised. It somewhat resembles a melon and is often eaten in the same way. Pawpaws are not just delicious, they’re nutritious too: they are rich sources of antioxidant nutrients such as carotenes, vitamin C and flavonoids; the B vitamins folate and pantothenic acid; minerals potassium and magnesium; and fibre. Together, these nutrients promote the health of the cardiovascular system and also provide protection against colon cancer. In addition, pawpaws contain the digestive enzyme papain, which is used to treat sports injuries, other causes of trauma and allergies. It can even be used as a treatment for Portuguese Man-of-War stings.

The tree-ripe pawpaw is delicious as a breakfast treat with a sprinkling of lime juice. Just cut in half, remove the black grey seeds from the pale gold interior and enjoy. Use to make well-spiced pawpaw pie, very much like pumpkin pie; green as a vegetable, and in the ground meat and tomato casserole we call pawpaw montespan. Low in calories, rich in Vitamin C.

Pawpaw Montespan

4 green pawpaws — skinned and diced
1 tomato — thinly sliced
1 Bermuda onion — thinly sliced, fried
1/2 pound ground round — browned and drained
grated cheddar cheese

Cook pawpaws until tender.
Mash and put a layer into a greased baking dish.
Cover with a thin layer of tomatoes, then meat and onion, then cheese.
Repeat these layers until all ingredients have been used.
Finish with pawpaw, sprinkle with cheese and cover with breadcrumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.