Neal in Botanical gardens Vienna 2015.jpg

In 1975, while he was studying for his master's degree in plant genetics at West Virginia University, Neal Peterson tasted his first pawpaw.

It was fall. He was in the WVU arboretum, hiking a path along the flood plain of the Monongahela River, when he spotted a patch of pawpaw trees growing on a bank. Their slender trunks leaned this way and that, reaching out towards the light. The scent of fruit was in the air. Ripe pawpaws lay in the fallen leaves. He bent down and picked one up, lifted it to us lips. It smelled delicious. Why not? Why not try it? He bit into it. A revelation. It was delicious!

He had known pawpaw trees all his life - they grew in the woods behind his boyhood home in southern West Virginia, and he was always in the woods as a teenager. He admired the tree for their tropical-looking foliage and their curious wine-colored flowers. But for reasons forgotten to him, he had never tasted the fruit. Until then.

"How come something that tastes this good has never been domesticated?" he asked himself. "Why is it not being cultivated and sold in grocery stores?" It tasted much better than cattail pollen and Jack-in-the-pulpit root, things his friend Nick Fedorko had prepared for him. This was not merely survival fare. This was a delicacy! And with that the germ of an idea was planted in Neal's brain that grew in time, and eventually became the saga of his life.