The Paw Paws are Coming…
The undisputed champion of paw paw production in the North Carolina Piedmont (and beyond) was a man named Wynn Dinnsen.
Wynn graduated from NC State as a horticulturalist, moved to the woods of Chatham County and developed a paw paw patch of legendary proportions.
The paw paw is a native fruit that is gooey and delicious, but it is extremely difficult to harvest and bring to market. It’s an unforgiving fruit. It needs five years in the shade, then full sun. It has a custom pollination strategy that leaves many patches barren for life.
It drops its fruit when it is ready to drop, stays delicious for a day or two, and then dissolves into a yellowjacket-infested mess.
It bruises easily. It’s heavy and hard to transport. It needs to be skinned and pitted.
This is why many people have never experienced an actual paw paw.
There are some nice wild stands of paw paws along the Haw River in Chatham County. Foragers frequent them. But wild caught paw paws around here are small and lack a good energy balance. The “work” to get at the fruit rarely equals the serving size produced.
Enter Wynn Dinnsen. Horticulturist. Nurseryman. He applies himself to paw paw genetics and to the development of the paw paw market.
He creates the finest stand of paw paw fruit anyone has ever seen and finds himself moving thousands of pounds a year to local businesses and consumers. His paw paws are giant and delicious and will leave your beard sticky with juice.
That’s where I came in. I run Fair Game Beverage, a small distillery at the Plant in Pittsboro. We are focused on hyper-local feedstocks, and we are enmeshed in the local food movement. Wynn and I bonded over the paw paw. And fruit brandy. We made a batch of unpalatable swill together. We hung out. We tasted spirits together. Every year Fair Game would buy fresh fruit from Wynn and use it for seasonal cocktail specials.
When Wynn took ill, his customers took turns going to the patch to harvest fruit as it fell. We weighed our harvest and left the cash under the stump by the front door.
When Wynn died last winter, he left a heartbroken paw paw community who mourned for him, and for Lisa, whom he left behind. He also left a fear for what would become of his life’s work—his amazing paw paw patch.
Enter Sean Wilson, founder of Fullsteam Brewery. Sean was a customer of Wynn’s. And a friend. They bonded over what Sean calls the “ephemeral fruit.” Sean is a local food activist who lives in Chatham who has been pioneering seasonal beers since the the early days of North Carolina’s craft brewing industry. This year Sean has taken over the paw paw patch.
It's rare to see a paw paw for sale at a farmer’s market. That’s why Fair Game signed up for a booth. Sean is going to harvest the fruit, and bring it to market, and Fair Game is going to make it available to curious paw paw consumers. Fruit that doesn’t sell at market will be taken across the street and turned into hyper-local cocktails.
Bingo. Legacy preserved. Thank you, Wynn. Thank you, Lisa. Thank you, Sean. Thank you, Pittsboro Farmer’s Market.