ABOUT

Handcrafted Western Maryland Lemonade was born in the Cumberland Farmers Market. Being an avid gardener and greenhouse hobbyist, owner Todd Helmick began selling his bottled lemonade at the Downtown Cumberland Farmers Market while trying to keep up with sales of his garden produce and vegetable bedding plants. The lemonade seemed to be a big hit with customers so Todd kept experimenting by adding this freshly picked produce from his garden. He also realized that this region offered quite a bit of wild organic options such as black raspberries, paw paw fruits, plums and maple sap...all a natural product of the Appalachian Mountains. Local and fresh is the key word here.

After visiting Farmers Markets at many locations across the country, it became apparent that local, freshly picked produce was becoming ever so popular with the American public. We have tried to instill that concept at Handcrafted Western Maryland Lemonade. Many of our products are seasonal, when the fruit is ready to be picked then the lemonade will be ready to be prepared.

All Handcrafted Western Maryland Lemonade is hand-squeezed fresh and refrigerated immediately. Most juice beverages on the shelf contain ascorbic acid or Vitamin C which has been added artificially. Even though most of these products claim to be all natural with no preservatives under FDA laws, these additions are without a doubt a preservative. We hand date all of our labels to insure that the shelf life freshness can be monitored.

 

PAW PAW FRUIT

OUR PAW PAW LEMONADE
One of the most asked about products is our Paw Paw Lemonade. Paw Paw fruit is indigenous to this part of the country and grows wild in trees along the banks of the Potomac River. Not many people know about its existence, not even the local people that have existed here all their lives. The Paw Paw (also spelled pawpaw) is an oblong shaped yellowish-green to brown berry colored fruit which contains many brown seeds embedded in the soft, edible pulp. The taste is similar to a mango/banana custard and the fruit ripens in September around here. The floods of 1985 and 1996 along the North and South Branch of the Potomac River in this part of Western Maryland/West Virginia took its toll on the tree which bears the fruit so it's not so easy to find anymore. Making the product even more difficult to find is that the shelf life of a paw paw is extremely short making it a not-so-usable item for the market shelf. Once a paw paw ripens it remains edible for only a few days. All of our Handcrafted Western Maryland Lemonade uses the frozen pulp of the paw paw during the months when it's not available in trees, making it possible to sell this year round. The small town of Paw Paw, WV just across the river from Western Maryland, is named after the fruit.

OUR PAW PAW ORCHARD SOURCE - JOHN POPENOE
In 2018 Western Maryland Lemonade owner Todd Helmick met a gentleman named John Popenoe who had a small orchard of paw paw trees at his home in Little Orleans, MD. John has recently just turned 90 years young and has been growing and propagating the wonderful nature of the paw paw for many decades. Of course, John also grows many other unique fruits too from native persimmons, melonberries, goumi cherries, medlars to Indian blood peaches.

Todd thought he knew just about all he could about paw paws through research and foraging hikes through out Maryland and West Virginia. That was until he sat down with John in his living room. "When you are lucky enough in life to be able to sit down and have an in-depth conversation with a person like John Popenoe (while drinking some homemade goumi cherry wine), you just shut up and listen all you can."


John Popenoe by a paw paw tree at his home orchard in Little Orleans (August 2019)

The biggest question folks like John and Todd always get are "What does a paw paw taste like?" As John would say, it tastes like a paw paw. In other words, this is one extremely unique flavor. The standard reply is usually the banana/mango qualities. Truth be told, every paw paw and every paw paw tree and variety tastes different. Some get more of a cantaloupe flavor, some have a Juicy Fruit Gum type of hint. And the older (more ripe) a paw paw gets the more the flavor can change. Paw Paws turn brown to black very quickly unless refrigerated. Even chilled they still age really quick. The darker they get the more caramel or dark brown sugar they get in taste. Todd personally prefers the caramel tones, while John prefers the sweeter pop of the younger fruit. To each his own.

NEAL PETERSON
One day in late August of 2019, while Todd was making a visit to pick up a load of paw paws from John's orchard, there happened to be a very special visitor in the living room. That guy was Neal Peterson -- the world renowned authority on the paw paw who actually now resides in Harpers Ferry, WV. If you ever purchased a paw paw tree from a nursery in this universe, good chances they are a Peterson variety that he developed. Shenandoah, Susquehanna, Rappahannock, Allegheny, Potomac, Wabash are some of the varieties one can find under his name. One of his latest cultivars is named Tallahatchie.

Let's just say Neal Peterson and John Popenoe are the godfathers of paw paw development and propagation. They would both deny such an honor with their humble nature and would immediately state they're just happy to be a part of spreading the word about paw paws. Try sitting in a room with these two and watch how much can be learned...just as fast as one can interpret information. Todd was lucky enough to take mental notes the best he could.

Read more about Neal Peterson's story and everything you want to know about paw paws at his incredibly informative website: https://www.petersonpawpaws.com/


THE GODFATHERS OF PAW PAWS
(Neal Peterson - middle, John Popenoe - right) standing with Western Maryland Lemonade owner (Todd Helmick - left) in John's home orchard (August 2019)

 

All this leads to the fact that there are many, many varieties of paw paws in the world. The trees that grow in John's Little Orleans orchard in Allegany County are the varieties developed to create bigger and tastier fruit (and more important less seeds) compared to the paw paws that can be found growing wild. The wild ones do have a wonderful flavor just the same, but they usually have so many seeds and much less meat. Of course that can vary tree to tree, location to location, season to season.

The fruit actually can ripen anywhere between late August and even into early October around the Appalachian region. It's important to note that paw paws are indigenous to everywhere from Wisconsin to Georgia. Neal even states that new varieties are being developed for Florida as well.

Maryland Public Television (MPT) will air as part of the award winning Farm & Harvest Series a look at Western Maryland Lemonade and how the they process paw paw lemonade with fruit picked from the orchard of John Popenoe. Episode 711 will debut on January 21, 2020 and can be found at this link: https://www.mpt.org/programs/farm/

 

PHOTOS

Western Maryland Lemonade owner Todd Helmick kneels in front of a paw paw tree with a bucket of freshly picked paw paws from Springfield, WV (September 2015)

 

 

A box of paw paw fruit picked fresh from wild wonderful West Virginia

 

 

Sliced paw paw fruit pcked from Little Orleans, MD

 

 

Todd Helmick demonstrating paw paw fruit to bluegrass music legend Del McCoury (October 2014)