Q: We brought some mayhaw juice back from a visit to Georgia. It was frozen when we left there, but thawed by the time we arrived home. How long do I have to use it? I brought it to make jelly, but I’m not sure I have time right now.
Answer: As long as you kept the juice at least as cold as it would be in a refrigerator, then you have three days, maybe four, to get around to using it, if you keep it in the refrigerator now. But if it got up to room temperature on the way back, or has been that warm for more than two hours, you might be growing bacteria in there. If there’s any indication of fermentation — fine little lines of bubbles, a layer of bubbles on the surface — or if there’s any sign of mold, grit your teeth and pour it down the drain.
I know mayhaw juice is not common around here, although the trees do grow in northern Florida, but growing bacteria or mold should not be ignored. They could produce toxins that even boiling into jelly won’t destroy.
It’s too late now, but for future reference, if there was still ice in the containers of juice when you arrived home, you could refreeze it immediately and then make the jelly when you have enough time.
Count yourself lucky that what you were given is just the juice. Mayhaw trees are in the hawthorn family and have the hawthorn’s heritage of big sharp thorns. The old ones grow in water, so the small fruits are usually harvested by boat or canoe.
There are newer varieties now that grow well enough on dry land, and some are being raised commercially in Texas. But the native varieties that grow from Georgia to Texas prefer wet feet. And since the fruits are fairly small, it takes a lot of picking to get enough for a good batch of jelly. I hope you get yours made in time!
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.