Blooming mayhaws mean jelly is on the way

Along creek bottoms and swampy areas from Texas to North Carolina, small, thorny trees known as mayhaws are blooming, sporting a profusion of fragrant, white blossoms.

In some areas, the mayhaw, a species of hawthorn, may rival the dogwood as an icon of spring (which arrives at 7:02 a.m. on March 20). In some locales during the next couple of months, weekendlong festivals will be held in honor of the mayhaw. Nowhere, though, will the mayhaw be more celebrated than in southwest Georgia’s Miller County. Its county seat, Colquitt, bills itself as the “Mayhaw Capital of the World.” (Some residents of Texas and Louisiana might argue with that.)

Though the mayhaw’s flowers are indeed beautiful, it is the tree’s bright red fruits — and the jelly made from them — that make the tree so praiseworthy. Folks in southwest Georgia swear there is no better jelly in the world than mayhaw jelly. I might have to agree. Spread on hot, buttered biscuits at breakfast, the coral-colored, slightly tart-tasting jelly is a culinary delight.

For many southwest Georgians, one of life’s rites of passage is learning how to make mayhaw jelly.

“My mother made sure her three daughters knew how to make it,” said Veryl Garland, president of the Colquitt-Miller County Chamber of Commerce. Garland now makes it for her grandchildren: “As far as they‘re concerned, there’s no other kind of jelly.”

Mayhaw fruits, which resemble cranberries, will be ripening in late April and early May, and then will fall into the water by the bushels. Harvesters in boats will scoop up the floating mayhaws. If there’s no water, they will spread sheets or tarps on the ground to gather the fruits.

Much of the annual harvest ends up at Cedar Head Farms in Colquitt, a major commercial producer of mayhaw jelly. John Trawick, the owner, said his popular product is made from recipes handed down through three generations. “Mayhaw jelly is a true Southern delicacy,” he said.

Colquitt will honor its mayhaws on April 19-20 during its 30th annual National Mayhaw Festival — about the time that the fruits start ripening and folks get ready for another season of jelly-making.

IN THE SKY: Spring's arrival on March 20 will mark the vernal equinox, when the sun crosses the plane of Earth's equator and makes night and day of approximately equal length, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer.

The moon will be first quarter on March 19. Mercury is low in the east just before sunrise. Jupiter is high in the south just after dark and will appear near the moon on Sunday night. Saturn rises out of the east a few hours before midnight. Venus and Mars are too close to the sun for easy observation.