For several months I have been trying to track down a location to pick a fruit that I had read about but never have seen, Mayhaws. Mayhaws are a variety of hawthorn called crataegus opaca. The fruit ripens in April and May, hence the name Mayhaw. This fruit, Mayhaw, has been used for several generations of Texans, Georgians, and folks from Louisiana and Arkansas to make jelly and other sweets. The fruit grew wild in the swamps in these states. People would take their boats into the swamps and shake the branches of the tree into the boat and into the water. They then would net the berries that were in the water. Today many of those swamps have been drained so to get Mayhaws one goes to a Mayhaw farm. These farms have grafted improved varieties onto the wild root stock. The domesticated trees grow in the sun rather than in the shade of hardwood trees in the swamp.
I tried to find a location where we could pick the Mayhaw in the wild but no luck. So we headed out to a farm in southeast Texas where we had permission to pick the fruit. I was so excited to finally see and pick the fruit. I was nervous that the fruit wouldn’t be ripe yet but there were ripe fruit in all of the 800 trees in the field. We picked the fruit two ways. We shook the fruit into a tarp and then picked out the leaves and sticks that littered the tarp. We then scooped the fruit into our buckets. This presented several problems. One, there was all the sticks and leaves. Two, the fruit that fell varied from ripe to over ripe so we had to sort out the fruit. Our other method of picking was to hand pick the fruit directly from the tree. This method was slower but one did not need to sort out the fruit from the debris and one could get only the fruit one wanted. It also had the advantage that we did not have to bend over. We even tasted the fruit. It was tart and smelled like ripe apples. The fruit was a pretty dark red. The juice is a pretty light red in color. It was suggested to me to add some blackberry juice to the Mayhaw juice so that it takes on a more red color. I will certainly give that a try. I can’t wait now that I am home to try turning the fruit into jellies and jams. I had four buckets of fruit that I cooked. For every gallon of fruit I added twelve cups of water. I then boiled the fruit until soft. I then mashed the fruit. I then poured the pulp into my food mill. I pressed the juice out of the fruit until I had 12 cups of juice. I poured the juice through cheese cloth. I then froze the juice into quart-sized ziplock baggies. I also removed the pulp from the cheese cloth to use to make mayhaw bread. I have to assume it will be similar to cranberry bread.
I learned recently that hawthorns are called tejocote in Mexico. They have been used since prehistoric times. They were used to make punches and to fill pinatas.