Tag Archives: Tupelo Honey

Roadside Mayhaw Jelly in NW FL

5 Jun

I spotted the above signs as we were driving through NW Florida recently. Not the heavily traveled FL panhandle, but the remote, unglamourous part of the “Sunshine State” just before you connect with Interstate 10. Stands like this really don’t exist on the interstates anymore, so I figured this might be my last chance to explore the flavors of Old Florida. It ain’t Stuckey’s or Cracker Barrel, folks — and that is truly a good thing in my book!

Willie Robinson’s Pecan House was furnished with all kinds of edible Southern goodies, yet it was the Mayhaw Jelly and Tupelo Honey that struck my fancy this particular day. Tupelo Honey is pretty hard to find outside of this part of the world and can be rather expensive. Mayhaw Jelly is even more rare … only appearing in roadside stands & country farm markets in the late Spring of each calendar year.  

Mayhaw Jelly is a pricey seasonal treat & worth every penny. It is made from a small, tart wild berry that grows in Dixie swamps. Here’s what the nerds at Wikipedia have to add: 

Mayhaw is the name given to the fruit of the species of Crataegus series Aestivales[1] that are common in wetlands throughout the southern United States. The principal species are C. aestivalis, the eastern Mayhaw, and C. opaca, the western mayhaw.[1]

Mayhaws grow in moist soil in river and creek bottoms under hardwood trees. The fruit ripens in late April through May, thus the name mayhaw. The fruit is also found in bayous surrounding lakes, such as Caddo Lake on the Texas/Louisiana border. Mayhaws are often collected out of the water from boats to be used to make jelly.

Families used to go on outings to collect mayhaws and create stockpiles of the jelly to last throughout the year, but the tradition has declined with the increasing urbanization of the South and the destruction of the mayhaw’s native habitat. The fruit has also been cultivated to grow outside of wetlands and this is increasing the source of the jelly.

Willie Robinson ran this little cottage industry for several decades before passing away a few years back. His brother Arthur (pictured above) picked up the reins in hopes of carrying on the family tradition. Arthur was kickin’ back in a battered recliner, rusty fan going full blast, when I met him on this steamy, hazy May afternoon. He pulled himself out of his “Archie Bunker chair” and slowly walked me through all the merchandise.

Arthur is a very mellow old dude. He paused momentarily to show me a recent newspaper clipping singing the praises of his sweet Tupelo Honey. All the while, I was wondering if I was his first customer of the day — this place was pretty remote and he, it seemed, had all the time in the world.

I wasn’t packing a whole lot of cash and let’s just say Arthur doesn’t accept credit cards. No surprise there, right? However, I did rustle up enough green to score a tall jar of Mayhaw Jelly. We were already packing some fresh Greek bread that we had picked up earlier in Tarpon Springs and I sensed that the Mayhaw preserves would make an excellent foil for the recently baked loaf. I turned out to be right on the money. A clash of cultures, perhaps. But the end result was a true melting pot of pleasing textures and flavors.

We’ll be passing through again in December and I trust our friend Arthur Robinson will still be here – chillin’ in his beat-up easy chair, rusty fan buzzing away, carefully balanced jars of Mayhaw Jelly, pickled Okra, and Tupelo Honey standing at attention, ready for service.

Pimento Cheese & Tupelo Honey

28 Oct

We had some really good eats while we were in Apalachicola. The area is famous for its Tupelo honey, but the beekeepers all seem to be located quite a few miles north of town. However, I did some web research and found that Watkins Tupelo Honey was available at the Piggly Wiggly located just a few blocks west of our bed and breakfast. I picked up a pound — not cheap at about $7 — and found it to be extremely sweet and fresh tasting. This Tupelo honey appeared lighter in color and a little more cloudy (less clear)than the traditional store-bought clover honey. If you’ve ever eaten fresh honey with the comb, you’ll have a general idea of the taste of Tupelo honey. It has a slight floral aftertaste — and I mean that in a positive way. Van Morrison once sang, “She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey.” One taste and it all starts to make sense.

 

Although several different Tupelo trees yield large quantities of honey in the southeastern United States, the Apalachicola River basin is well known for its distinctive flavored Tupelo Honey. It is also produced along the Chipola river a tributary to the Apalachicola. The Ochlocknee and Choctahatchee Rivers also produce some tupelo. These areas are the only places in the world where certified Tupelo Honey is produced. This is because of the abundant growth of the white tupelo, Nyssa-ogche, that produces good quality Tupelo Honey.

The white Tupelo Tree as it is most commonly known usually stands 50 to 75 feet tall is 2 to 3 feet in diameter. White Tupelo blooms from early April to early May, depending on the years weather. Black Tupelo, Nyssa biflora blooms in advance of white tupelo and is used to build up bee colony strenght and stores. Black tupelo produces a less desirable honey which will granulate , it is sold as bakery grade honey.

Another taste treat on this trip was the homemade pimento cheese spread we enjoyed at the Gibson Inn’s Avenue Sea. The inn is located on Avenue C, so the chef saw an opportunity to link the restaurant’s name with the local nautical traditions. Now this is no typical hotel restaurant. The chef here (David Carrier) once worked at Napa’s acclaimed French Laundry, but moved here for a simpler life and access to super fresh seafood. Much of the menu has a Southern twist.

We arrived about 5 pm or so on Saturday and found a cozy table in the pub near the big screen TV. The patrons were battling over the remote control, so we sat back & chilled with an ice cold sweet tea (and I do mean SWEET) as the channel flipped back and forth between the Florida State and University of Georgia football games. Both of the “home” teams were winning and it all remained fairly jovial.

The pimento cheese was served with some small slices of crisp toast. The spread was nice and chunky and was speckled with bright red pimento. It was expertly created and gone in a flash. And for those of you not in the know, there is a big difference between homemade and store-bought pimento cheese. Taste and compare and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Here’s a recipe to get you started:

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese

2 medium kosher dill pickles

2 cloves of garlic (adjust the amount to suit your taste)

1 4-ounce jar of pimentos (or pimientos, as they are also called), drained

Cut all ingredients except the pimentos into large chunks. (The pimentos are already chopped.) Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse just long enough to roughly chop. You don’t want to puree the ingredients, just make them pliable for the next step.

Put in large bowl and mix with about 3 good tablespoons of mayonnaise. (Try Duke’s, a Southern brand made in Richmond, Va., that many pimento-cheese aficionados prefer.)

Refrigerate, but set out for 20 to 30 minutes before use.