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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

Mayhaws:
A spring delicacy

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

I read in the paper the other day where some farmers are now growing mayhaws in an orchard on their farms.

There goes another East Texas tradition--all shot to heck by technology.

In case you haven't lived in East Texas for a long time, mayhaws are to East Texans what blueberries are to Maine.

The trouble is they don't grow in convenient places like fields and roadside bar ditches. Most mayhaws are found in swamps, river bottoms and other places where large snakes, giant mosquitoes and other varmits make their home.

As a result, picking mayhaws in East Texas has become a spring ritual that ranks right up there with the Indian rites for achieving manhood.

Some experts claim it is an East Texas myth that mayhaws can only grow in swamps, sloughs and poorly-drained areas. Some growers say the mayhaw business has been so successful that they’re now selling them from the roadsides.

Good grief. What has the world come to? Mayhaws being peddled like common fruit and vegetables?

Mayhaw jelly is one of the great culinary delights in East Texas. It's taste is indescribable, but is comparable to a mixture of apple, peach and apricots. Mayhaw jelly has been known to sell for as much as $6 a jar--if you can find it.

A few springs ago, I agreed to accompany some friends who, like Alex Haley, wanted to return to their roots and pick a passel of mayhaws.

On the appointed day of the ritual, we loaded into a boat at the Neches River bridge near Diboll and started down the river into the bottomlands of Angelina and Polk counties. We soon came to a slough just off the main channel. "This looks likely a likely spot. I see some mayhaws floating over there," one of the pickers noted.

We paddled our way into the slough and, sure enough, mayhaws were everywhere, floating in the water, hanging from the bushes, resting on the ground. We soon had five buckets of mayhaws.

It was Mayhaw Heaven, and on the boat ride back to the bridge, we kept envisioning rows and rows of jars of pure mayhaw jelly to carry us through the winter in much the fashion of our pioneers.

Then, it struck us. Who is going to cook all these mayhaws into jelly? Not one of us had ever made jelly. And we had all married young wives, and none of them knew a blamed thing about mayhaw jelly.

We finally toted the mayhaws over to a wife's grandmother, who said she would be glad to make the mayhaw jelly, but only if she got a third of the product. This woman had not been raised by fools.

We were trapped--five manly mayhaw pickers without a recipe, cringing before an 86-year-old grandmother who had us by a short rope.

But in the end, we gave in and each of us ended up with at least one pint-sized jar of jelly. And as I remember my jar, it was the grandest, most delicious, taste-tantilizing, wonderful, and beautiful jar of jelly in the whole world.

While I am saddened that the mayhaw picking ritual is changing in East Texas, I am pleased that some folks are growing mayhaws where they can be picked with considerable less discomfort.

Because of the growth in mayhaw technology, county agents tell me that East Texans will some day develop cottage-type industries for making jelly, pies, cakes, candy and other products.

However, I doubt they will ever taste anything like mayhaws picked from the river bottoms in the springtime.


© Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman's East Texas
All Things Historical April 7, 2008 Column
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers


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