Shh, we've got a secret to share with you and it's juicy! No, really, it's a super juicy and tastes like a combination of sweet cherries, pineapple and mango. Have you guessed it yet? It's the wild legacy of the South: the mayhaw. Found in the swamps and rivers of the Southern United States (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and East Texas), this small red fruit can be used to make juices, jams, jellies and syrups.
The mayhaw fruit, which grows on hawthorne trees covered in thorns, resembles something of small crabapples or a cranberry. The bright red fruit is about 1/2 inch in diameter and is ripe to pick in the late spring from mid-April to May. Now it makes sense why its name is mayhaw!
The History of the Mayhaw
According to Slow Food USA, the mayhaw wasn't the most popular fruit in the bunch by indigenous Americans. The fruit trees grew on the edge of the swamp making it hard to forage. And the fruit tended to be small and tasteless when eaten raw. It wasn't until Antebellum times that foragers began to use the fruit for jelly and syrups. From then, the mayhaw jelly was served with everything from venison to wild turkey.
A thick skinned fruit, the mayhaw comes in two native genera. One that ripens yellow and the other, red. Each fruit is the same when cut, with a white interior and a few small seeds.
When the small trees are ready to harvest, many people partake in annual family mayhaw picking along the swampy areas of the river. Most mayhaw berries are foraged using nets and boats to round up the berries from the bog. Today many people plant their own mayhaw trees in their garden plot or in orchards. The trees only reach 15 feet in height, making this a fairly simple plant to tend. Simply place a large tarp under the tree and give the tree a shake. The mayhaw berries should fall effortlessly onto the tarp, ready for the kitchen.
Many towns in the southeast also celebrate the harvest with local festivals just for the fruit. North Florida holds a festival every year while Starks, Louisiana hosts a three day festival complete with a beauty pageant and great food.
What to Make with Mayhaw Fruit
Most often, the mayhaw fruit is made into jelly. It takes about 4 1/2 pounds of fruit to make three batches of jelly according to the LSU Agriculture Center. To prepare the jelly, mix the fruit with water and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook about thirty minutes.
Other than jelly, mayhaw fruit can be made into some delicious desserts, drinks and even a chicken dinner. Here are some recipes to inspire you.
Jimmy's Mayhaw Wine
Did you know you can make your own wine at home using mayhaw juice? It takes a little bit of wine making equipment and some special ingredients (like campden tablets, pectin enzyme, and wine yeast) but you'll be making your own big batch wine in no time.
Mayhaw Glazed Chicken with Collard Slaw
Created by Peach Dish, a meal kit service that brings you food straight from the farm, this meal is simple to put together on any weeknight. Place chicken breasts in apple cider vinegar, mayhaw pepper jelly, salt and turbinado sugar then bake until cooked through. Meanwhile make a mean southern slaw by combining collard greens, carrots and green onions.
These flavorful and sweet cookies are reminiscent of jam thumbprint cookies. Creamy butter, sugar, flour and vanilla are combined into small round cookies. Using your thumb (or a small teaspoon) make an indent into the dough and add a drop of the mayhaw jelly.
Inspired by the locally grown fruit, this classic cocktail combines a mayhaw shrub with club soda, mint and rum. You can also use a mayhaw syrup if a shrub is not available.
Products That Feature the Fruit
So you can't find fresh mayhaw fruits where you live. It's understandable. Lucky for you some southern companies are incorporating the little red fruit into their products for consumers to try all over the country.
Big Easy Kombucha
Kombucha is taking over the grocery stores and we are loving it. If you happen to see this flavor in the store grab one and take a sip. The combination of sweet blueberries and tart mayhaw intertwine in perfect southern harmony. The New Orleans' brand Big Easy Bucha is found all over the south and as far as New York and Oregon.
Patti's Wild Mayhaw Moonshine from Sugarlands Distilling
A part of Sugarlands Shine legend's series, this wild mayhaw moonshine is 55 proof and goes great on ice or made into a float with vanilla ice cream. A fourth-generation moonshiner, Patti proves that the moonshining business isn't only for men. So grab a glass and enjoy the sweet taste of the secret fruit of the south.
This article was originally published on April 30, 2018.