Mayhaw Wines, Sherries, and/or Meads

Mayhaw Wine

April 5, 2001

There are many varieties of Mayhaws, some sweet but some not. They grow wild throughout the southern United States from east Texas to Florida, often in large stands of small trees sporting respectful thorns up to 3 inches long. The actual species is the Crataegus aestivalis (May hawthorn), a member of the rose family related to the apple. The fruit resembles a crab apple, is usually red or pink (although both yellow and orange ripe fruit are known), and is usually 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. While most hawthorns ripen in the fall of the year, Mayhaws usually ripen in May (thus the name).

The genus Crataegus (hawthorn, or thornapple) contains several hundred to a thousand species, several of which are collectively called the May hawthorn, or Mayhaw. They usually differ from place to place, depending on how many other hawthorn varieties are or have been in the area (they cross-pollinate freely, adding to their variety). Some of them are quite inedible raw, but sweet ones are not uncommon and are the best for making jelly and wine. The sweeter the natural fruit, the less aging is required for the finished wine.

There are several domesticated varieties of Mayhaw. Among these are Super Spur and Texas Star The parents of these trees were chance seedlings from the wild that exhibited desirable characteristics that have been preserved by grafting cuttings onto native rootstock. One of the desirable characteristics sought by Mayhaw breeders is late flowering and fruiting. Because the Mayhaw flowers so early, it occasionally falls victim to a late frost that wipes out that year’s crop. Specimens that flower and fruit late have a better chance of surviving late frosts. Thus, through selective breeding, tomorrow’s commercial Mayhaws might no longer ripen in May. I doubt, however, that this will affect their name.

Pick the fruit only when ripe. Premature Mayhaws are astringent and unsuitable for jelly or wine. If possible, spread canvas or other material under the tree and shake it vigorously. This is not always easy to do in the wild. If you have your own stand of Mayhaws, so much the better, but that is no guarantee the fruit will last until ripe. Birds, squirrels and a huge variety of other wildlife often eat the fruit before they actually ripen, but such are the risks of making wines from the wilds.

Despite the extended time it takes to make and age this wine, Mayhaw is generally an excellent wine well worth the effort. The recipe is for a gallon of wine, but if the Mayhaws are available it is best to make larger batches.

  • 3 quarts ripe Mayhaws
  • 1 lb 13 oz granulated sugar (earlier recipe used 2-1/2 lbs sugar1)
  • 6-1/2 pts water
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 1-1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • wine yeast

Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, cut stems off fruit and wash fruit, discarding any that are unsound. Put fruit in primary and mash them with a piece of hardwood. Pour sugar over fruit and, when boiling, pour water over that. Cover primary and set aside to cool. When room temperature, add pectic enzyme, tannin and yeast nutrient. Recover and set aside 12 hours. Add yeast. Stir twice daily for 8 days. Strain into secondary, squeezing pulp gently. Fit airlock and set in dark place for 6 weeks. Rack into sterilized secondary, top up and refit airlock. Return to dark place and rack again after 4 months, top up and refit airlock. Return to dark place for 8 months, checking airlock every few months to ensure water does not evaporate. If wine has not cleared, fine with gelatin, wait two weeks, and rack again. When clear, bottle. Age additional 6 months to year. The taste will tell you when it is ready. [Author’s own recipe]