I mentioned this beautiful plant before in a previous post, but now, we at the Walbacz homestead are blessed with a plethora of maypops, AKA North American passion fruits. And man oh man, is it grand.
First, we get to look at these gorgeous flowers all spring and summer:
And, as we slowly convert our lawn into a pollinator and edible garden, and avoid mowing anything but pathways, we watch as these vines spread, and spread, and spread. We planted three of these vines about two or three years ago, and they’ve covered at least fifty square feet of our yard in one season.
Now, friends, we have maypops.
What the devil is a maypop?
The Cherokee have known about and have been using the maypop for thousands of years, and it has many names and nicknames, including ocoee, wild apricot, and wild passion vine. (Its scientific name is passiflora incarnata, if you must know.) Some say it’s called a maypop because of the sound they make when you step on them (pop!), while others claim the “may” comes from the season/month of their blossoming.
A maypop is about the size of a large chicken egg, depending on which variety you get, with a thick but pliable outer skin and pulpy interior with crunchy seeds. It grows on a vine that spreads quickly wherever it feels right. And yes, it’s part of the same family as its tropical cousin, the more familiar passiflora edulis, or tropical passion fruit.
What does a maypop taste like?
If you’ve ever had tropical passion fruit or chinola, the taste is very similar, although it tends to be tarter and less juicy. Depending on the type of maypop you get, it may also be smaller and less gooey/fruitful on the inside than the tropical version. The seeds in both types are edible, but maypop seeds are especially crunchy, so they’re not to everyone’s taste, especially when making jam or jelly.
If you’re still wondering, but what does it taste like?? The best way I know to describe it is to think of Hawaiian punch. Thinking of it? Good. Now think of that one fruity flavor that’s not orange or pineapple or whatever other fruit you’re likely more familiar with. Got it? That’s passion fruit.
All parts of the maypop plant are edible, although the flowers can have a low level of toxicity, depending on the variety. Toddler Homesteader likes to eat the whole fruit, skin and seeds and all, while I go for just the middle goo. I’ve also heard of people making teas out of the leaves and petals.
Even cooler still, the maypop has medicinal uses, especially in the realms of sleep, anxiety, and anti-inflammatory purposes, and its leaves and skin have been used to treat wounds and bruises. All in all, a pretty awesome plant.
Oooh, you may be saying to yourself, this is a cool and tasty plant! How do I grow some for myself?
In our experience, the maypop vine is a super low-maintenance crop, and is native to the Southeast United States. It’s an excellent pollinator plant, and a climber if you’re looking to adorn a trellis or other climbing structure. Or, if you’re looking to cover the ground and replace the grass and other pollinator flowers that never came up, it does that well, too. Sigh.
The maypop vine requires well-drained soil and a good deal of sunlight, but it’s also extremely drought-tolerant. I purposely watered the area where they grew (not even the vines themselves, since they were hidden) maybe twice this year, and we got our big patch. I’ve even mowed them down a few times by accident, and they come back. If that’s not low maintenance, I don’t know what to tell you.
Where can you get maypop plants? Try your local garden supply store, or a plant sale from a purveyor of local, native plants. We got ours from a plant sale at the NC Arboretum, and we learned a ton from the very knowledgeable vendor and grower who sold them, so I always encourage you to talk to someone who knows what they’re doing.
Finally, fair warning: many people and guidebooks consider passionflower vines to be a pernicious weed (boo on them). If you choose to plant these buggers, they will stay with you. They will pop up in places you don’t expect from year to year. They will spread. And spread. And spread.
If that’s cool with you, get yourself off the lawn train and on the maypop wagon. It’s much tastier and more fun over here.
Maypop fruits can be treated like their tropical cousins, although it may be a little more work to extract enough juice and pulp for what you want to do.
Firstly, make sure you’re only using very ripe maypops. Ripe ones will often be yellowed and wrinkly on the outside, but many of ours stay green and bright and are quite ripe. If they feel heavy for their size, they’re often ripe.
The inside of a ripe maypop will have big, juicy seed nodules, and the best ones will be so gooey that it’s hard to tell the nodules apart. The fruit will also have a strong sweet, tart aroma when opened.
For most culinary purposes, you’ll only be using the pulp. Thankfully, getting the pulp out is super easy – just crack open the maypop and, using your hands or a spoon, scoop out the pulp (seeds and all) into a bowl. You’ll need a pretty good amount of pulp to get enough for jelly, jam, or fruit filling (about 50 or more maypops for one batch of jelly).
Some people like the seeds in their jam. Good for them. I find them a bit too crunchy for that purpose, and I definitely don’t want them in my jelly, so I render juice from the pulp instead.
To make juice for maypop jelly, you’ll need to cook them a bit with water and strain the juice for a few hours. To make one cup of maypop juice, you’ll need about 3 cups of pulp and 1/4 cup water. (If you’re doing the math, that means you’ll need about 9 cups of maypop pulp for the recipe below to get enough juice.)
Place a colander over a bowl or large saucepan, and line the colander with cheesecloth and set aside. Simmer the pulp and water in a saucepan for 5-10 minutes, just until the pulp breaks down a bit (it won’t do so much). Strain the pulp and water mixture into the colander, and allow to sit for at least two hours or over night. You can also pulse the mixture in a blender a few times to break up the membrane a bit before straining.
Then, use the juice for whatever your heart desires! Be sure to refrigerate it if you’re not using it immediately.
And now, maypop jelly.
Use ripe maypops for the best results. You’ll need a lot!
you will need:
- 5 c granulated sugar
- 3-3 ½ c rendered maypop juice (see note above)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 50 g powdered fruit pectin
- If canning, prepare canning equipment.
- Measure sugar in a large bowl and set aside. (It’s super important, when working with powdered pectin, to add the sugar all at once; otherwise, the jam may not set properly.)
- Combine maypop juice and lemon juice in a large stainless steel saucepan, and whisk in the pectin until it is fully dissolved. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
- Add the sugar to the boiling mixture all at once, stirring constantly to combine, and return to a full rolling boil that doesn’t go down when you stir. Allow the mixture to boil for 1 full minute, stirring constantly.
- If canning, follow hot-water bath canning procedures, leaving ¼ inch headspace between the jam and the lid. Process jars in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes. Wait 5 minutes, then remove the jars from the canner, and allow to rest, upright and undisturbed, for 24 hours before testing the seals.