When I asked my husband's grandfather where to find Mayhaws, he said we would have to go deep into the forest, and look for them near a source of water (the trees grow best in the acidic soils surrounding rivers and swamps. As exciting as a day of wildcrafting sounded, we simply didn't have the time.
Instead, I visited a bed and breakfast / fruit farm in Kountze, Texas where they cultivate mayhaw trees. After driving down a back road and a long driveway, I realized that we were indeed deep in the woods, at a secluded retreat. I want to thank Ann Ethridge of Ethridge Farm for allowing us on her property to take these photos.
Mayhaws are members of the Hawthorne family. The fruits may be up to 19 mm in diameter, and resemble crabapples in flavor. The new growth often has the purple color shown below.
In the wild, Mayhaw berries often fall into the water and are skimmed out by running a bucket along the surface. This is sometimes done precariously balanced in a canoe or other small boat. However, these cultivated trees are equipped with nets to catch the berries as they fall.
The fruits are then collected and cleaned of leaves and other debris.
Then Ann puts the extra berries in the freezer. Mayhaws do come ripe in May (as the name implies), and their season is fleeting. But properly frozen mayhaws can last for years until you can find the time to make them into syrup, wine juice or jelly (mayhaws are rarely eaten out of hand).
I bought some of the mayhaws to make into jelly. Many people use added pectin in their mayhaw jelly recpies, but I find it works just fine without it, as long as you make sure your jelly reaches the appropriate temperature (225 degrees).
Mayhaw Jelly - No Pectin Recipe
1 lb. mayhaws
2 c. water
sugar, as needed for weight of fruit
Prepare a hot water canner bath, and sterilize 6 half pint jars, along with rings and lids.
Wash the mayhaws and sort through them to remove any debris. Combine the mayhaws and the water in a large pot and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium high heat until they become soft (around 15 minutes). strain well.*
Measure the juice and place it into a clean pot along with an equal amount of sugar (that is, 1 cup sugar to 1 cup juice). Bring this mixture to a boil over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring frequentiy until the mixture reaches 225 degrees (jelly stage).
Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal. Process in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
* To strain the mixture, you can pour it into a jelly bag balanced over a large bowl, or you can line a strainer with cheesecloth. I myself am fond of the pillowcase method - you place the mashed berries in a clean pillow case fastened to the back of a chair with a large bowl underneath it and let them drain. If you want to squeeze the last remains of the juice out of the berries, the bags make it easy to do.
Mayhaw jam is a common ingredients in pies and cakes in areas where the trees grow. Pecans often feature in the same recipes. To make mayhaws into jam, cook them as for jelly, then put them through a sieve of food mill, and cook down with an equal amount of sugar.
If you have never tasted mayhaws, I hope you will seek out this often overlooked fruit. You will be in for a unique taste experience.