Thursday, October 4, 2012

Harvest Ingredient 4: Mayhaws

I grew with these little beauties with several family members always having some spare Mayhaw jelly around almost all the time.  Recently a member of my mother's church gave her some juice just a few weeks back to make some good old fashioned homemade jelly!  I've had the commercially produced stuff, and while it will do in a pinch, especially if you live out the growing range of this fruit, it's just not as good as the stuff you take the time to make yourself!  Mind you, if you can get fresh local stuff produced in a small way, it's very good.  So what is a "Mayhaw?"

Mayhaw tree showing how small they are when mature enough to bear fruit.
The word mayhaw is actually short for "May Hawthorn."  I confess that when I was a kid, I thought the word must be a Native word...not so much it turns out.  The Latin botanical designations are Crataegus aestivalis and C. opaca, which are officially known as "Eastern May Hawthorn" and "Western Mayhaw" respectively.  Both are closely related species or the great Rosacae family....yeah ROSES!  In fact, these "berries" look like and are actually large rose hips (last year I posted a Harvest Season bit on hips, that post can be found here).  Also in the family are Apples.  Most Hawthorn trees have serious thorns on them, just like most roses, but the May species really love water.  In their native range, they are often found growing by small streams in the wild; although they are frequently cultivated and successfully cultivated away from a running water source.  The mature fruits look exactly between a rose hip and apple.

Map showing the native wild range of the Eastern May Hawthorn

What is interesting to me is that this wonderful fruit gets almost entirely left out of Native American cookbook, but it was an important food source for southeastern natives numerous groups as diverse as the Houma to Chitimacha,  Choctaw to Caddo.  The first a very high in vitamin C, especially when raw, and can easily be stewed and most of C is retained even after heating.  A sweet mixture can easily be made from them and is similar to Rose Hip Puree, which is used as a sauce for meat or fish.  The dried berries can go into meat stews and such.  The juice as mentioned above can be made into a delicious jelly, and this is the way that most people, native and non-natives, use them today; but the juice, when thinned out with water makes an excellent "Ade"--as in like lemonade beverage.  For rose hip puree, see here.  For me, throwing away the flesh after juicing just seems a waste, so why not make a puree out it (it can be frozen).

Mayhaw festivals abound all over the southeast from Texas to Georgia.  Colquitt, GA has one of the largest; I've never been, but I've heard that it's quite the "get up."  Louisiana has a Mayhaw Society to promote the pretty, but humble little fruit, their website can be assessed here (Louisiana Mayhaw Association).  Here the link to Marion, Alabama's Mayhaw Festival page, which (and I really like this) they throw every Mother's that's how I'd love to spend mine!!  Website includes some nice recipes, and since they are related to apple, any recipe for mayhaw almost equally applies to apples as a substitute.  Here a link a TyTy nursery that sell four distinct varieties of Mayhaw, with, I believe, the Swamp Mayhaw being as close to the wild species as a nursery has to offer

I've had Cedar Head Farms Mayhaw Jelly and it's very good.  Good on Bagels with Cream Cheese!  Now, that's not very southern of me, is it?
Modern recipes use Mayhaw in everything from ice cream to home-made wine. Because they are closely related to apples and tend have a natural sweetness, the make a good fruit butter.  Modern jellies sometimes add other ingredients, like chilis or herbs; Mayhaw-Jalapeno Jelly has become popular here in the southeast US.  The juice, when boiled down and checked for sweetness, make a great syrup for pancakes, etc.  The juice is used to add to desserts of all sorts, including everything from cheesecakes to cookies to candies.  While this is a late spring harvest, memories of jelly making in the fall, go hand in hand with me along side cane syrup cooking.

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