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Mayhaw are petite, round fruits which measure approximately one half to three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Depending upon variety its skin can be varying shades of red, yellow, or orange with the red being the most commonly found. Its thin skin encases a white pulp which surrounds a few petite seeds. Also known as an ornamental the Mayhaw tree boasts showy white blooms. Mayhaw fruit is highly acidic and offers a bitter to sweet-sour flavor depending upon variety.
Mayhaw fruit is available in the late spring.
Mayhaw fruit, botanically known as part of Crataegus aestivalis, C. opaca or C. rufula, are a member of the Rosaceae family and a traditionally foraged fruit of the United States. There are three different varieties of native Mayhaw trees; big red, super spur, and heavy. In recent years land clearing for agricultural purposes has destroyed a significant amount of native Mayhaw trees in the American south. This partnered with an increased demand for the fruit from pick-your-own fruit companies and producers of Mayhaw jams and syrups has spurred an interest in commercial production of Mayhaw fruit.
Mayhaw fruit when uncooked offers ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, and some minerals. On its own it is considered a nutritionally healthy food, however since most preparations of the sour flavored Mayhaw tend to involve sugar it is more so looked at as a fruit consumed for enjoyment rather than for nutritional purposes.
As a result of the Mayhaw’s sour flavor and small size they are rarely consumed raw or unsweetened. The skin of the Mayhaw contains most of its sour flavor and as such the berries are commonly juiced, skin discarded, and used to make jellies, jams, and syrups. These condiments can be used in a number of preparations. Mayhaw jelly can be used in fruit pies and pastries or served alongside game meats. Mayhaw syrup makes an excellent topping for desserts such as ice cream, puddings and cakes. They can be used as a topping for breakfast foods as well such as biscuits, muffins, porridge, and pancakes. Additionally, Mayhaw fruit can be used to produce wine. To store, keep Mayhaw fruit refrigerated and use within a week.
The Mayhaw fruit is documented as having been used in the southern United States to make preserves as far back as 1600. Foragers would go by boat to harvest the fallen Mayhaw fruit scooping them from the water with nets. Traditionally southern families would harvest the fruit together annually and even today are still known to make a batch of Mayhaw jelly each year to share with family and friends. In the United States the fruit is typically available starting in May, hence its given name.
Indigenous to the United States the Mayhaw fruit has grown in the southern states between Texas and Georgia and further south to Florida for centuries. Its popularity has experienced ups and downs through the years. Initially the fruit did not appeal as a foraged food as a result of its small size, often poor flavor, and its inconvenience to harvest from swamps and other wet low land areas. Once people learned of the fruits ability to lend itself to jam and syrup making its popularity rose rapidly and in the 1800s cultivation of the Mayhaw tree began. Since the 1980’s growers have been experimenting with growing Mayhaw in various locations each with assorted climate, soil, and fertilizer in efforts to find new ways to cultivate trees that offer fruit with improved yield, fruit size, and fruit quality. In terms of growing regions the Mayhaw is one of the few flowering trees that is able to grow successfully in wet area and lakeshore type landscaping such as bays and river bottoms as well as along swamps and streams.