It is Mayhaw season here in southeast Louisiana and we have been lucky enough to receive a ~2 gallon gift of them from Michael’s Aunt and Uncle. As they would say the trees were “chock-a-block” full of mayhaws down at the canals north of us. His method to pick them was how it was often done by the cajuns, shaking the trees over canals, swamps, and the like followed by simply going in with a pirogue (pronounced something like p-roe, if you aren’t from here) and net them up off of the water. This does mean you scoop up quite a bit of leaves but it certainly beats having to pick each one off of the tree.
Mayhaws are part of the hawthorn genus, specifically Crataegus (genus) Aestivales (series of species). Hawthorns from asia have been used for heart disease and general cardio vascular problems in traditional eastern medicine. While looking up jelly recipes, I saw that some people will take the leaves and or the berries and dry them to make a tea for this purpose. In terms of non food uses, hawthorns are great for use as rootstock as well as a hardwood for woodworking and fence posts. Mayhaws are generally tart and have been nicknamed the cranberry of the south. I believe you could use mayhaw juice interchangeably with cranberry juice in recipes and things, though I have not tried it yet. Just from tasting the juice, you can see quite a bit of similarities.
The first step is to clean out all of the leaves, sticks, and squishy-too-far-gone berries out of your buckets. Michael’s Uncle came up with an ingenious idea to separate them out based on their density and shape compared to everything else. Essentially he made a low angle trough where you pour the berries onto at the top end, let them bounce down it leaving the trash behind, and down into a cooler (any sort of bucket or container that is the width or more of your trough. He repurposed his wood hurricane shutters (1.5 to 2 ft wide plywood plank that has 1 to 2 inch sides on it) for his through. It worked like a charm, basically sluicingfor berries (not gold). Have someone picking out the trash on the trough and the final bucket to speed the process along.
Next you will need wash out what didn’t get filtered out in the sink. I filled up the 3 gallon bucket with water and used the basket from my salad spinner to push the berries down so I could scoop out the bits with a fine mesh strainer. I think next time I will try to find a container that is just the right width of a cookie drying rack instead of the salad spinner basket (the cookie rack looks to be just slightly smaller than the berries, which sounds perfect to me). Anyways it got the job done.
Juicing the Mayhaws
Since the mayhaws are small and hard with a pretty good sized seed in them, you have to “juice” them to make anything of note out of them. I feel the term juicing seems to be different than what you actually do, it is more like you are making a very concentrated tea with the berries. What I did was dump them into our big brew kettle (the only pot they would all fit without being a accident waiting to happen) and then almost covered the berries with water. The more water you add, the less concentrated the flavor will be. Generally most other sites I saw, just covered seems to be the way to go. Give them a mash with a potato masher to break them up in the water.
Over medium high heat, bring the water to boil, reduce the heat a bit (medium) and cover. Periodically mash the berries with your potato masher, very carefully, I nearly burned myself on the hot juice. Steep the berries for at least half an hour, or until most of them are soft with the help of the mashing.
Strain out the pulp in a colander before any fine straining. I let mine sit out over night to drip out since it was getting late on a work night. Next, using cheese cloth, a jelly strainer, or in my case a boiling bag for use in brewing beer (essentially same thing they use for jelly), squeeze out the juice that is left in the pulp. The more you squeeze the darker and more mayhaw like the jelly will be. I ended up with 27 cups of juice from ~2 gal of berries.
You can now use this juice as you see fit. It seems common to make syrups, jelly, wine, and that sort of thing with it. If you don’t want to process it all at once, you can also freeze the juice or can it as well, which I think I will do with a bit of it. The pulp either can be saved for making pies and fruit butter though I think most people just compost it. The seeds are in the pulp which when I did a quick internet search, I saw some conflicting evidence whether the seeds in the berries are poisonous or not. They may have cyanide in them much like the pits of other common fruits, however the whole berries have been used ground up in teas and things for medicinal purposes like I have mentioned. I am thinking I will try to remove the seeds from the pulp leftover from jelly making to dry it down into a powder or to save it for making fruit butter and pies (apparently it is popular to add it to what is essentially cheesecake or a custard pie :D, can’t go wrong with that).
Most common recipes seem to follow the method of for every 4 cups of juice, add 5 cups of sugar with added pectin to make mayhaw jelly. Michael’s Aunt tried this method as well as a 1:1 ratio. We all agree they are both good, however the 1:1 seems to be the best. It has much more pronounced mayhaw flavor and jelled up just as well and isn’t too sweet that the sugar is too pronounced compared to the juice. I decided to get a little daring for my first batch and see what 3 cups of sugar to 4 cups of juice would be like for my first batch. I adapted Diana’s Mayhaw Jelly and New World Food (this site looks like a great one to find recipes and things for wildcrafted foods) recipes to make my jelly. Also a quick look through Canning for a New Generation also had a similar process with the Traditional Jelly recipes to the New World Food recipe which is nice to know. And a forewarning, I did what you were not supposed to a couple of times when making my jelly: I doubled the batch, used untested pectin, and did less sugar than normal… which I am sure Michael’s Aunts are shaking their heads right now, love you guys 😀
- 8 cups juice
- 6 cups sugar
- 2 heaping tbs lemon seeds
First, make a sachet with your lemon seeds or use a spice bag. I used a coffee filter and baking twine, and in hindsight I should have made two layers of filter since part of it split open when I got too excited about pressing out the juice. In a very wide non-reactive pot add all of the ingredients and your sachet and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Turn the heat down a bit (no less than medium), and boil until the liquid reaches its jell point. You can do the jell test with a cold plate in your freezer or use a thermometer (must reach 220°F). I found that this did take quite some time (at least 30 minutes), probably because I doubled the recipe. Fill 8 oz jelly jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace and then process in a water bath canner for 5 to 10 minutes. I ended up with 6 1/2 pint jars since there was a lot of evaporation during the longer processing time.
The result is a rather tart jelly that has a good sweet end to it that I think turned out rather tasty. I do hate to admit it, the jelly did not fully jell by morning the 8 oz jars even though the extra jelly that was just a few tablespoons did. When you place them in the refrigerator they do firm up as you would expect jelly to. Additions you could add (if you assume mayhaws are like cranberries) are vanilla, cinnamon, and orange. I also made two regular (4 cups of juice) batches with a 1:1 sugar ratio with half of a vanilla bean (seeds scraped too into the pot). The vanilla flavor was very pronounced when you compared it with regular mayhaw jelly but not overpowering; I think it turned out to be quite a nice combination. Also I bet it would make a nice syrup for cakes and desserts as well.