Mesquite-Devil with roots

During the summer when we were growing up, my sisters and I got out of bed maybe 30 minutes later than we did during the school year, did whatever chores we were allocated, and were sent outside to play.  It didn’t matter that it might be 98 degrees in the shade; there was plenty of water to drink.  “Go outside and get some sunshine,” we were admonished.  And we did.  We never questioned the wisdom or fairness of it.  It was what we did during the summer. 

One of my favorite places to read, catch horned toads, or harass doodle bugs was under the mesquite tree in our backyard.  Mesquites provide shade from the south Texas heat and have low hanging branches that even a chubby kid like I was could climb.  The mesquite was my “giving tree” unless I ignored my mother’s call to get inside the house.  Then, it might provide the switch that she chased us in the house with, swinging and swooshing, swatting whatever legs happened to be slowest which were usually mine.  Like that joke about how fast you have to run to escape a bear, my sisters only had to outrun me. 

That didn’t happen often and in all fairness to Mother, she did strip the thorns off the thin branch.   When it did, I could agree with Texas rancher W. T. Waggoner who said the mesquite is  “the devil with roots. It spooks my horses (and) scabs my cows.”

Mesquite post corral

I guess ranchers and farmers in Texas had a different take on the tree than we did.  We had mesquite bean wars, made music with the rattle of the beans, dissected them, molded the amber sap, and used their branches to make forts.   I don’t have one in my yard yet.  I have soul-less hackberries and tallows which are not long-lived trees and which spread their invasive shoots all over my yard.  I know mesquites are invasive, too, but they are willing to stick around for a few centuries and are useful trees.  Hackberries and tallows are only digestive aids for birds that park on their branches and eat their berries over my car.

Blooms on a mesquite are called 'catkins'

Bob’s got several mesquites in his yard.  He asked me if the trees were dropping their beans early this year, but I didn’t have a clue.  When I put mesquite in the search engine of my computer, I came up with a wealth of information about the trees.

The tree blooms in spring, and the bean pods, the tree’s fruit, appear in May.  The bean pods ripen when they turn brown and can be easily pulled from the tree.  They are dropping right now so this must be the normal mesquite bean harvest season.  Texas ranchers observed that the trees seemed to produce more beans in the dry years when crops weren’t good.  The beans provided sustenance for the ranchers and farmers as they had for the Native Americans.  

The mesquite beans are not quite ripe

Undertaken in 1841, the Texas Santa Fe Expedition was a commercial and military expedition to enforce the Republic of Texas’s claims to parts of northern New Mexico and secure control over the lucrative Santa Fe Trail.   The men found the mesquite beans to be “manna from heaven” as they ran out of food travelling the vast reaches of west Texas.  George Kendall, member of that expedition, wrote in his journal, “When our provisions and coffee ran out, the men ate (mesquite beans) in immense quantities, and roasted or boiled them.” (quoted by Ken Rogers in The Magnificent Mesquite) 

Bob’s trees are Honey Mesquite, also called Texas Mesquites.  They are a little spinier than the Screwbean Mesquite found in West Texas or the Velvet Mesquite more common to Arizona.  Mesquites were present in SE Arizona more than 11,000 years ago; they coevolved with early mega-herbivores who ate the pods.  Later, when cattle were introduced to the Americas, the mesquites further spread.

Mesquite 'needles' and weaving

Early Texans used mesquite wood to fence their spreads because there was plenty of it and it didn’t rot.  Corrals can still be seen in West Texas that used mesquite logs pickets.  The thorns were used as needle, too.  Native Americans pounded mesquite bark and wove ropes and cloth with the fiber.

The 1870 Texas Almanac included an article by Dr. John E. Park of Seguin, who said the mesquite made a “superior tanning material.”  Dr. Park tested the barks of various Texas trees; mesquite was the richest in tannic acid, a substance used to tan leather. He extracted the tannins by chopping the wood and boiling it in water.  Dr. Park reported that mesquite tannin also penetrated the leather exceptionally fast.  The U.S. Patent Office granted Dr. Park U.S. Patent No. 51,407 on Dec. 5, 1865, for his tanning method using mesquite.

I could ask for no better monument over my grave than a good mesquite tree, its roots down deep like those of people who belong to the soil, its hardy branches, leaves and fruit holding memories of the soil. . . .” J. Frank Dobie

In the late 1880s, the first streets to be paved in San Antonio—Alamo Plaza and surrounding streets—were surfaced with hexagonal creosote-treated mesquite blocks. When soaked with rain, the blocks swelled enough to push some of them up above the surface of the street, making for a rough ride.  In testament to mesquite’s durability, remnants of the wood still surface from the activity of street maintenance.

I’m planning on harvesting some of Bob’s mesquite beans and making jelly.  Here are two untested recipes that I found and will test this week-end.  Both recipes came from the website http://littlewolf.us/mesquite.html

Mesquite Molasses
4 quarts water
1 LB Mesquite pods (washed)
Place water and pods in a covered crock pot and cook at low heat for
12 hours. Strain, then reduce by boiling to the consistency of thin
syrup. Cool and serve the thick, bold syrup on pancakes

Mesquite Bean Jelly
Ingredients:  
3 cups juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 box Sure Jell

Instructions:  Gather fully ripe mesquite
beans (When they have turned a tan color
and begun to drop from the tree)
Immerse in water for a time so that any
bugs that are in or on the pods will crawl
out and can be removed.  I never harvest
the pods from the ground, these tend to
have lots of bugs.  When the pods are
ripe, you can easily pull them from the
tree.  
{be careful harvesting the pods,
remember the mesquite tree has thorns!}

Drain and put in a pot and cover with
water.  Cook until soft.  You may have to
add water while cooking to get them soft
(it takes a while).  After the pods have
become soft, and simmered a while, you
will see the water is a beautiful honey
color.  I just let mine simmer until it is a
deep rich honey color, then using tongs I
remove the pods from the pot. (I threw the
used pods into my compost pile and
recycled them)

Strain the juice through a jelly bag, or
muslin cloth.  I prefer the muslin cloth
because I can double it up and really
strain the juice thoroughly.

Take 3 cups of the strained juice, add the
1/4 cup lemon juice, and box of Sure Jell.  
Bring the mixture to a full, rolling boil;
gradually add the 4 1/2 cups sugar, stirring
until it is well dissolved.  Continue
cooking, stirring occasionally,  until the
liquid reaches the jelly stage.

Spoon into hot sterile jars and seal with
paraffin or two-part lids.

I sterilize my jars and rings in the
dishwasher, but wash the lids with hot
soapy water in the sink.  You do not want
to ruin the rubber seal on the lids.

I do not have a canner, so I place my jars
in a pot of water.  Once the jars are in the
pot, the water level should be about
halfway up the outside of the jars.  Any
more than this and the jars try and float
and fall over.  I bring the water too a slow
boil before spooning in the hot jelly
mixture.

Spoon the hot jelly mixture into the hot
jars, be careful not to get any jelly on the
rim of the jar, this could impede an airtight
seal when you put on the lids.  If you do
get some liquid on the rim, simple wipe it
off with a damp rag, or paper towel.
Fill the jars with the hot jelly mixture, but
remember to leave about a 1/4 inch of
head space between the jelly and the lid.
Once the jelly is in the jars I remove them
from the hot water bath with a jar lifter or
tongs.  Immediately place on the lids and
screw the rings into place for a tight seal.

Let the sealed jars sit and cool at room
temperature.  After a while you should
hear the lids popping as they suck down.  
This means you have a good air tight seal.
 If a jars lid does not suck down, you have
not achieved the seal necessary for
preservation.  Once cooled the jelly is still
good, but you will need to keep these jars
in the refrigerator or else they will spoil.

Will let you know if Mary Ann and Gerald liked the mesquite syrup on their pancakes and the mesquite jelly on their biscuits.

About texasgaga

I am a mom, a grandmom (Gaga to my 2nd oldest grand-child), a sister, a friend, a construction estimator, a homeowner, an active member of a 12 step recovery group, an artist, a reader, a survivor, a do it yourself wannabe, a laugher
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