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Ramble with Vukmirovich: Pawpaw proposal

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John Vukmirovich submitted a proposal to the United States Postal Service calling for the issuance of a first-class rate pawpaw stamp.


The images come Purdue or Kentucky State University.

I enjoy quests like this.

Plus I enjoy reading anything by Vukmirovich, one of my favorite writers about Chicago outdoors. The 10th Ward man can even make a stamp proposal not just worth reading, but damm interesting.

There is a lot of stuff in here, I didn't know.

They say that rivers flow down to the sea from the land, but rivers of the imagination flow into the land, and are a part of it, flowing from the Appalachians and the Alleghenies west to the Mississippi, moving in and among the mountains, turning into streams and creeks that glide past and alongside countless ridges and into innumerable hollows, until the waters and the land are inseparable. Alongside those rivers, creeks, and streams, deep in the hollows and on the sides of the ridges, in the shadow of the mountains, grows a fruit-bearing tree that like the rivers is a part of the land itself, inseparable: Asimina triloba, the North American pawpaw.

The flowers of the pawpaw, our largest edible native fruit, are as visually striking as the fruit is delectable. The purple flowers, with their wide and pointed petals, bloom usually by mid-June. The six-petaled and two-tiered flowers are textured as if cut from crepe paper. The back tier's large petals point to ten, two, and six on the clock face of nature, while the first tier's are at noon, four, and eight. But the effect, accentuated by the yellow, pollen-rich center, is timeless. The purple is deep and rich, as if an artist first laid down a chocolate-colored underpainting, an imprimatura, before applying the purple, the color of the underlayer adding a sweetness, one might say, to the flower's color, if not to the fruit itself.

Once pollinated, the clusters of light-green fruit swell until they are roughly mango sized and shaped, their skins irregularly daubed with a patina of brackish purple or brown. Inside, the flesh is a creamy yellow that darkens as the fruit matures, and at its peak, has a custard-like consistency, while the fruit as a whole gives off a heady floral aroma. The flavor teases the senses, banana-vanilla up-front, but at times behind that, pineapple or coconut accents, befitting its long, droopy tropical leaves. The bean-shaped seeds are large and dark chocolate brown.

For centuries, Americans--from the Native Americans to the settlers, from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, from the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition to today's many devotees--have harvested and relished pawpaws on late September or early October days. Some consume pawpaws right after being picked, while others puree the flesh and fold it into batter for cakes, cookies, and quickbreads, or blend it into custards, ice cream, and smoothies, the last with a healthy splash of dark rum, if you please. Pawpaws are also part of American folk culture, along with crazy quilts, tadpoles in Mason jars, and classic folk tunes such as "Shenandoah," "Barbara Allen," and of course, "Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch." Pawpaws belong on back porches on golden September afternoons, at suddenly conceived Indian Summer picnics, and at the family dinner table after Sunday services with the first hints of autumn in the morning air. Pawpaws belong to the world of red and black-checked wool shirts, dungarees, and grandpa's fedora, and where children still read and dream about Daniel Boone, Davy Crocket, and Mike Fink, as well as Tom, Huck, and Jim. And some varieties of pawpaws are named for some of America's most storied rivers: Allegheny, Potomac, Wabash, Susquehanna, and Shenandoah.

Hold a booklet of current-issue "Forever Stamps" in front of you, and instead of a monotonous array of Liberty Bells, imagine an alternating two-stamp depiction of pawpaws, the first focusing on the deep purple flowers with foliage, the second on a cluster of ripened fruit with one in the foreground cut open to reveal the subtle yellow flesh and the chocolate-colored seeds: one can almost smell the tropical scent and savor the unique texture of the fruit. One might also well wish it were still necessary to lick a stamp.

Asimina triloba, the North American pawpaw, has been, and still is, a part of the texture of American folk culture, in food, in music, and in history. Pawpaws are found along ridges and in the shadow of mountains, and along creeks and streams that empty into rivers that are part of the land itself, as the pawpaw is of the land itself, inseparable from the land, America.


I think Vukmirovich made his case well and tied it very nicely into both the literal and literary history of America.

The text of the proposal (along with additional information) will be sent to you if you email John at

If you wish to support this project, please send a postcard with a brief message referencing the proposal to the following address:

Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
C/O Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service
475 L'Efant Plaza SW, Room 3300
Washington , DC 20260-3501

He suggested, "Why not turn this into a Labor Day activity for friends, neighbors, kith and kin? Okay, now get to it!" I like the idea.

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1 Comment

A great idea and a worthy subject for a stamp. We live about an hour and a half north of Paw Paw Michigan. I don't know if there are even any paw paws there anymore. But west of us on the campus of Grand Valley State University is the most northen documented stand of wild pawpaws along the Grand River. It's quite a sight to see and the students there study them and pick up the fruit in the fall. If you have never tasted a pawpaw, you need to!!

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on August 15, 2011 9:33 AM.

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