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I was thirty-two years old before I ever tasted a papaya.  Growing up in the 80’s in a small California town, the exotic things didn’t show up in our grocery stores.  I think the most unusual fruit I had growing up was kiwi, mostly because my pharmacist father would sometimes get paid in produce.  I loved those boxes of fruit, a lot more than the time he was paid with a bear roast.

Living in Iowa in the 90‘s didn’t exactly bring about more selection in the produce department, and even if it did, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge of how to select a papaya.  Do I buy them green?  Are those spots OK?  Should they be hard or soft?

Photo credit/Emma Stoltzfus

Photo credit/Emma Stoltzfus

It wasn’t until I moved to Hawaii almost a decade ago that I had my first taste of this delightful fruit.  One bite and I was hooked.  There’s nothing better for breakfast than a fresh slice of papaya sprinkled with a little lime juice, unless it’s half a papaya filled with yogurt, blueberries, and granola.  Either option is delicious.

While I was living my papaya oblivious existence in the middle of the Midwest, back in Hawaii a crises was occurring on Hawaiian papaya farms.  The ringspot virus was taking over farms on the Big Island, causing damage and death to both the plants and the fruit.  While farms were being devastated, Dennis Gonsalves was spending his time looking for a solution.  It didn’t take him long to develop a genetically modified plant that was resistant to the ringspot virus, and by 1999, the seeds were given, free of charge, to Hawaii papaya growers.  Today, about 77% of the Hawaiian papaya crop is genetically modified, and those farmers, once on the brink of closing their doors, are still in business.

In our house, we go out of our way to purchase the Rainbow papaya developed by Dr. Gonsalves.  They are, in my opinion, the tastiest papayas on earth.

June is National Papaya month, so if you haven’t already, try this tasty treat. Look for fruit of yellow/orange color, not too soft and not too hard, with a slight sweet smell.  A little green is not a problem, but an all green papaya isn’t ripe and may not ripen completely.  Slice it up, and save the skin for the compost pile.  When you go to scoop out the seeds, don’t throw them out!  Those seeds will make the base for a tasty salad dressing.  Aloha!

Rhonda grew up in Northern California, graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Horticulture, and was lucky enough to marry a farm boy. She established a fruit farm in SE Iowa before following her farmer, David, to Hawaii where he grows seed corn. Her life in Maui currently revolves around 3 teenage children and all things agriculture. The Stoltzfuses were recently honored as the Hawaii Farm Bureau Family of the Year.