Mayhaw jelly and syrup

Ark of taste
Back to the archive >

The ‘cranberry of the south,’ the mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis, C. opaca, C. rufula) is an indigenous fruit native to the lower southern states of the United States, grown from North Carolina to East Texas. The fruit is about 1-2 cm in diameter, spherical and covered with a thin skin. Ripe berries can be either yellow or red, though red mayhaws have been more widely cultivated. Inside, the fruit has a white pulp with few seeds. There are three native varieties of Mayhaw tree grown today: Heavy, Big Red and Super Spur. Super Spur is praised for the flavor of its fruit, and is considered to produce excellent berries for jellies and syrups. When eaten raw, mayhaws are typically described as bitter and sour, sometimes slightly sweet, and with a high acid content; however, they are not commonly eaten raw. Jellies and jams are made only with the strained juice of the fruit. These finished products can range in hues of yellow to pink to red, are described as tasting ‘wild-fruity.’ To create the jelly, the mayhaw fruit is cooked in a ratio of one gallon of fruit to three gallons of water. The fruit is boiled and cooked for thirty minutes. Once the fruit has cooked, the juice can be pressed from the berry, typically through cheesecloth to prevent the seeds and skin from joining the juice. Afterwards, the juice will be heated, mixed with pectin, and sugar will be added. Once the sugar has been dissolved and the solution has boiled for one minute more, the jelly is stored in sterilized jars. The mayhaw’s native habitat of swamps and marginal areas once discouraged individuals from foraging the wild plant. Mayhaw berries were foraged once they had dropped ripe from their branches and bobbed in the waters around their growing locations, and foragers would have to use boats and nets to collect the berries. Despite this, the fruit has been recorded as being used in jellies and syrups since the 17th century. It was typically served with game dishes, such as venison, wild duck and wild turkey. Around the late-1800s the fruit’s popularity gave rise to the cultivation of mayhaw trees. Today, there are several mayhaw festivals celebrated throughout the growing region, including in Miller County, Georgia; Daisetta, Texas; El Dorado, Arkansas; and Starks and Marion, Louisiana. Each of these festivals coincides with the harvesting of the fruit and jelly, typically in late April to May. Today mayhaw jelly is typically served alongside ice cream or coffeecake, or biscuits or toast for breakfast. It is also used in both savory and sweet dishes, such as sauces for meats, poultry or BBQ sauce, to create pie fillings and dessert sauces or used in cocktails. Mayhaw butter, jam and wine are also traditional delicacies. These jellies, syrups and other products are sold in very limited quantities by small-scale vendors throughout the South.

Back to the archive >