Puerto Escondido, a tiny port town in Oaxaca, Mexico, is known for having the most beautiful, relaxing beaches in Mexico. It’s also the home of Javier (Javi) Hernandez, one of Happy Dirt’s shipping and receiving co-leads. When asked what it was like growing up in the small, coastal village, Javi’s eyes begin to sparkle and his smile rises like the Oaxacan sun. Abundance, both in community and papaya fruit, shaped the delight of his childhood.
“Growing up as a kid it was like a dream life,” Javi fondly recalled. “We were rich in community, but poor economically. We were rich in a way like: ‘Hey, I have a banana tree, and you have a papaya tree. I’ll trade you bananas for papayas.’ You never had to ask for food when you were hungry; you would just go to a neighbor’s and grab a papaya or a coconut. It was very familiar to share the good things that nature provided.”
Javi laughs as he adds that they had to reluctantly share fresh papayas with the bats and the birds.
“At my house, we always tried to collect the papayas before the birds because they liked the papayas, too,” Javi said. “The bats were the worst for taking the papayas before we could. At night when the papayas were really ripe, the trees had these white flowers. The bats would eat the nectar from the flowers and eat the fruit, too.”
Even if the bats snacked on the ripe papayas before Javi and his family had a chance to grab their portion, Javi knew that the bats served as pollinators for the fruit. Thanks to the fruit-loving bats, Javi, his family, and their neighbors always had an abundance of papayas.
“I remember we were eating papayas twice a week,” said Javi. “My mom would walk outside and pick the ripe papayas from a tree and make agua fresca, smoothies, or put it on top of granola.”
How to Know When a Papaya is Ripe
While Javi spent his childhood among the papaya trees, I spent my childhood sitting in my grandparents’ apple trees. I can confidently say that I most likely tried my first papaya when I was in my late teens. And, I can confidently say that I most likely had no idea that I was eating a papaya. Until about a week or so ago, I couldn’t pick a ripe papaya out of a crowd. That is until I took papaya 101 from Javi and our friend Angel, who is from Venezuela.
A fully ripe papaya boasts a vibrant orange-yellow skin. Even if part of the skin remains green, as long as there are two to three larger orange-yellow spots, the papaya is ready to eat. Another indicator of ripeness is the fruit’s softness and seeds.
“If a papaya is ripe, the seeds should be a vibrant brown color and be shiny like little fish eggs. They actually look like caviar,” Javi describes. “When they are really shiny, man that is going to be the best papaya you’re ever going to have.”
Tips and Tricks
Before the season’s organic papayas landed in Happy Dirt’s cooler, I stopped by Whole Foods to purchase two organic papayas. We were filming a how-to video with Angel, and our organic papayas were still a week out. I stood looking at the organic papaya selection for what seemed like the entire month of January. I chose the two that I felt looked the best. But had I known then what I know now, I would’ve known the papayas needed at least two more weeks to ripen. Thanks to Javi (and his mom) I was able to speed up the ripening process.
“When my mom was harvesting papayas, she found a way to ripen them faster,” explained Javi. “If the papaya is still very green, you make very tiny cuts around the edges. You don’t want to cut too deep. You know you’re doing it right if milky liquid starts coming out of the skin. Wrap the papaya in newspaper and put it in a dark place or leave it on your countertop.”
As far as peeling a papaya, both Angel and Javi recommended using a potato peeler. After you peel the papaya, cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Don’t toss the seeds, though! Papaya seeds are edible and extremely good for gut health.
If you want to skip the peeling process and dive into the fruit, cut the papaya in half widthwise. Both halves will be like little papaya bowls. Scoop the seeds out and eat the papaya fruit like ice cream.
The papaya trees continue to bear fruit.
Although Javi lives over 2,000 miles away from his childhood town, the memories of his childhood continue to thrive like the papaya tress in his family’s backyard.
“When we were young and we wanted to get papayas down from the tree, we would sometimes shake the tree,” Javi reminisces. “All the time, half of the papaya would hit our heads while the other half was still in the tree. They are very fragile when ripe.”
As far as the current papaya trees in his family’s backyard, they aren’t the same papaya trees from Javi’s childhood.
“After the papaya trees get really tall, they are really fragile and they fall,” explained Javi. “When they were 10 or 11 feet tall, my mom would cut them down because they were dangerous.”
Because there is not a shortage of papaya seeds and the bats and the birds are expert pollinators, new and healthy papaya trees continue to bear fruit for Javi’s family.
If you are a produce buyer and would like to offer organic papayas to your customers, contact our sales team!