Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Mayhaw

Can you believe that people found something to do with mayhaws? In case you don't know, the fruit of the mayhaw i's a bitter, seedy, little thing sort of like a crabapple, but smaller and less tasty. It's supposed to be some relative of the hawthorne. I have no idea about what a hawthorne is, but I do know what a mayhaw is, and I have the utmost admiration for the first determined Southern pioneer woman who figured out a way to use it. I did extensive Google searching for the history of mayhaw jelly and it seems to have no beginning. It's just one of those things that's always been. That means it was invented by women.

Like all Southerners, I grew up with mayhaw jelly. To me as a kid, it wasn't special in any way, it was just jelly. All biscuits tasted better with jelly. Besides mayhaw, we had dewberry, blackberry, and plum. Figs were preserved, pears made into a butter which was a preserved puree. Generally, if it was made from edible fruit, preserves were preferred to jelly. Dewberries and blackberries were a toss up. Jelly got rid of the fruit pulp, and most importantly, the seeds. I liked both.

The mayhaw is an edible but not palatable fruit. It's all seed covered by a thin layer of bitter pulp, covered by a tough and even bitterer peel. Its flavor is strange and elusive. Like I said, I grew up with the taste of mayhaw jelly, but when I moved away from the South in the early 1970s, I quickly forgot about mayhaw as a flavor. Fast forward 30 years and I'm sitting down to breakfast on Cow Creek in East Texas on a cold morning and placed in front of me was a large platter of biscuits, butter and mayhaw jelly. The taste was like a sweet tart of memory, taking me back to childhood. What a rush. I have not been without it since.

This week-end, Starks, Louisiana is celebrating its Mayhaw Festival. By circumstance, it's probably the largest gathering of Redbones in southwestern Louisiana and east Texas. I am there in spirit at least. Meanwhile, I'm having another biscuit and jelly.