GROWING AND EATING PAPAYAS
Back in the 1960s when I was in college and seminary, I worked part time for 2 different grocery stores. I do not remember seeing Papayas in the produce sections. We moved to El Paso, Texas in 1973. I saw Papayas in the grocery stores of El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, but I never bought one. In 1982, we flew to Chihuahua City, Mexico to spend the night before taking the train to Copper Canyon. That morning the waiter at the motel restaurant suggested I try the Papaya halves with squeezed lime juice. They were sweet, flavorful, and delicious. Since then, I have bought Papayas both in El Paso and here in Rockport, Texas.
Carica Papaya are a tropical tree herb that dies when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. The tree can grow from 8’ to 30’ and live for several years. The Mexican variety can grow to football size or larger with blunt pointed ends, weighs from 2-13 lbs., and has a yellow orange sunlit color when ripe. There is also am Hawaiian variety that is about the size of a man’s hand, pear shaped, and turns yellow when ripe. The ones I have eaten are not as sweet or flavorful as the Mexican variety.
The fruit has a musky melon like taste with a butter like consistency. It is one of the healthiest fruits a person can eat. It has antioxidant nutrients like Vitamins A, B, C with carotenes, and minerals like potassium, copper, and magnesium, plus fiber and a digestive enzyme. This enzyme helps a person loose weight, tenderizes meat, and begins to break down the skin of the Papaya when it is ripe. The black seeds inside the hollow center have a peppery taste. The skin is eatable and is used as an anti-wrinkle crème.
Papaya are best bought partially green and allowed to ripen at room temperature. It can be eaten in halves with lime juice after scrapping out the black seed. I like it with yogurt and in fruit salads. It can also be dried.
The seed sprout readily. I have had several sprout in my compost pile. However, the ones that have grown around my garden have been volunteers. The first two grew to about 20 feet high. Their fruit was so-so. We had a freeze around 2014 and they rotted to a mess within a week. This year I had one that came up next to my garden shed. It only got rain in a drought year. It grew to 7’ and produced round soft ball sized fruit that were deep orange and delicious. The raccoons got to some of the first fruit, so I had to pick them when I first saw a yellow tint.
There are two Papaya trees between the Myers Lemon tree and the Mexican Lime that blew over in Hurricane Harvey but grew back slowly. Since those trees are on the drip irrigation system, the Papayas trees grew to 16’ this year and produced yellow Hawaiian Papayas. Another Papaya tree came up behind my garden where I put some of the dead garden plants in a low spot. I have eaten 4 of the Papayas from it and there are 6-8 more. I will need to carry a latter back there to get them.