May is a good time to enjoy mayhaw jelly, Louisiana’s state jelly. The mayhaw, Crataegus opaca, is a native fruit of Louisiana. It begins ripening in late April and finishes about the first week in June. Fruit color is usually bright red, although it can deviate toward pink or yellow.
Gathering wild mayhaws has been an age-old tradition for many Louisiana families, according to LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. John Pyzner. Traditionally, mayhaws were harvested in backwoods sloughs, swamps and river bottoms. Boats were sometimes used in harvesting wild mayhaws. Limbs were shaken over the boats and nets were used to scoop fruit out of the water.
"People selling mayhaw fruit along the highway used to be a common sight in many areas of the state," Pyzner said. Accessibility to collecting sites has dwindled over the years, and many woodlands have been cleared. It is said that Mayhaw Slough, a former popular harvesting area in northeast Louisiana, has only one mayhaw tree remaining.
Mayhaws are now making the transition to an orchard crop. Orchard production has increased from none 20 years ago to more than 80,000 pounds today. Orchard production has removed some of the fluctuation in availability of fruit. It has also improved the quality of available fruit.
Earlier orchard trees were usually seedlings or grafted varieties from native selections with marginal production characteristics. New mayhaw varieties have been developed that have improved fruit quality and yields, are later blooming and are shatter resistant because of growers’ breeding programs.
The tradition and interest in mayhaws can be seen in five mayhaw festivals that are held across the southeastern United States during harvest season. Festivals are held in Starks, La.; Colquitt, Ga.; Daisetta, Texas; El Dorado, Ark. and Marion, La.
While jelly remains the main use for mayhaws, other possible uses for processed mayhaws include flavoring, jam, sauces, pie filling, coffee cakes, ice cream and wine.
Mayhaw fruit and juice are available from growers and some native harvesters. Mayhaw jelly, however, now can be found in many Louisiana grocery stores as well as roadside stands and craft shows.
On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/
Source: John Pyzner (318) 644-5865, or Jpyzner@agcenter.lsu.edu
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture