Mesquite: A Texas Tree

It’s been a blistering summer already, 108 at Bill’s weather station yesterday afternoon. But summer has another way of announcing itself here in the Texas Hill Country. The beans are beginning to ripen and drop from the honey mesquites (Prosopis glandulosa), to the great delight of the raccoons, rabbits, possums, coyotes, and deer. (I’ve read that by mid-summer, mesquite beans make up something like 80% of a coyote’s diet. And it’s a long-season tree, for another mesquite, nearby, is still embroidered with light green catkins and smothered with bees. Its pods won’t be ready for snacking for another six weeks or so.

The mesquite tree was a staple in the lives of the indigenous people who lived here before we came. TexasBeyondHistory has an excellent review of the many uses of this valuable tree as food, medicine, fuel, and tools.

But ranchers don’t like mesquite, for it competes with the grass for scarce moisture. In fact, mesquite is on the state’s list of invasive species, for like most native plants, this little tree is sturdy, adaptable, and prolific. When it finds a place it likes, it settles down, makes itself at home, and populates the neighborhood with others of its kind.

But there’s not a lot of ranching in Burnet County now, and it’s harder than it used to be to object to mesquite. The wood is great for barbecuing. Honey made from the flowers is the best you’ll ever spread on your cornbread. The beans, gathered when they’re green, make a delicious jelly When they’re dried and ground , they produce a nutritious if slightly bitter flour that can be turned into bread and booze. You can read about my metate adventures here  and find my recipe for mesquite muffins.

Noted Texas author J. Frank Dobie once reported this Mexican proverb: “With prickly pears alone one can live, but with prickly pears and mesquite beans, a person will get fat.” I don’t know about that. But a mesquite muffin and jelly is a tasty treat.

Book report. The Enterprise novella trilogy is being released this month and next. The first, Deadlinesis available now.  Fault Lines (July 21) and Firelines (August 4) are available for preorder. The omnibus edition (all three titles) will be released in print and digital on August 18.

And while you’re waiting for the Darling Dahlias’ ninth adventure (The DDs and the Voodoo Lily, October?), you can snag Kindle copies of their seventh mystery (The DDs and the Unlucky Clover) and their eighth (The DDs and the Poinsettia Puzzle)–each for just 99 cents. I don’t know how long this sale will go on. Better check it out before it goes away.

Covid report. Texas’ numbers are spiking because our governor didn’t order masks until last week and allowed some businesses to reopen too soon. Our rural county is reporting nearly 250 cases and the numbers go up every day. But we’re isolated here at Meadow Knoll. Bill shops when necessary; I stay home. I am grateful to be living through this pandemic in a green and beautiful place and appreciate it more every day. Wherever you are, I hope you are sheltered and safe.

Reading note. I would not sacrifice a single living mesquite tree for any book ever written. One square mile of living desert is worth a hundred ‘great books.’ –Edward Abbey

24 comments on “Mesquite: A Texas Tree

  1. I visited the beautiful Texas hill country some years ago so I can visualize where you live and where your books take place. Here on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, we are so blessed to live on the coast with mountains in our backyard and no active cases of Covid-19 as I write. Living on an island does help to keep us a bit isolated but sometimes I fear we may become too complacent. I don’t see that many folks wearing masks, but social distancing is definitely respected. May you continue to remain in good health as you write your books!

  2. Loved your article on Mesquite trees. I used to buy a ground mesquite sap concoction from a curandera in San Antonio in the 60s and it was said to be a blood thinner..It is also good for diabetics. I am always anxiously awaiting the latest Darling Dahlias adventures.

  3. I so enjoy hearing about the beauties of the Texas Hill Country. I will have to visit sometime when we can all travel safely again. Anne Frank wrote “think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy” which is good for us all to remember right now. I have just finished and thoroughly enjoyed Deadlines. When I started the Crystal Cave novellas, I admit I wondered if a novella would satisfy me. One alone might not have, but I love the three linked stories. I look forward to the remainder. Yes, as you noted, I am sure Sheila is waiting her turn, but there are certainly other characters it would be fun to see, if you decided to continue. Case must surely have some interesting clients through The Thymely Gourmet. And then there’s Kate. Accountants have interesting clients, too!

    • One thing I hope for the Enterprise novellas, Vicki: to focus attention on the plight of local newspapers. We need them, now more than ever before. We need to know what’s happening–what,who, why, where, how–in our own backyards!

      • I agree with you about newspapers. I still enjoy reading the Sunday paper with a cup of coffee. One has to give props to newspapers being able to continue during the pandemic. The Sports/Entertainment/Life sections have little material to work with. Here’s hoping they can continue to exist so my 91 year old Dad can still receive his daily printed newspaper.

        • It’s a huge concern, Becky. I read the national papers online (as a subscriber) and our local paper in print (although it’s available online). I don’t agree with the local paper’s editorial politics, but the news side plays a necessary role in the community’s life.

  4. Hi Susan, I enjoy so much hearing about the beautiful area you live in. I didn’t know that mesquite is such a great food source. Here in Michigan our Governor has been doing a good job. She just had to mandate masks because some people have refused to wear them. There were a lot of people over the 4th weekend crowding together at the lakes and parks in the Upper Peninsula. We are waiting to see how many will be infected from that choice. Been home since March and it looks like we will be staying home till next March because some people won’t do their part to end this pandemic. We are lucky to have home delivery and no contact order pick up here. Stay safe and healthy!

  5. Thanks for the reminder of mesquites (and prickly pear)—among my best friends when growing up outside Anson. During the drought (early ‘50s) our small herd of cattle made the beans and the mesquite grass part of their survival. I took a burner of some sort into the pasture and torched the needles off the cactus so the cows could feed on them also. Out here in West Virginia, we have a tree with thorns and beans (acacia family?) that touches the memories, but oaks and maples have grown to be more loved companions. Still, there’s appreciation for the hard scrabble, for “the grit in the eye” (even finding value in dust storms), and for Austin’s hill country.

  6. That tree sounds wonderful to watch through the seasons. You are so lucky to be so isolated to see all those wonderful animals partake of the delicious beans and you make these wonderful recedes to enjoy. Stay safe as we are doing here in a suburb of Illinois.🌈

  7. Wish we had mesquite here, too. Maybe in Eastern Oregon’s high desert. But then again, there are already loads of deer, raccoons, opossums, etc. around here. Maybe they’d prefer mesquite beans to my tomato plants, strawberries, and hosta flowers…. And, I’m hoping our library has been able to acquire your latest books!

    • The library won’t be able to get the novellas until the omnibus edition is published, Beth–and even then, only if there’s enough interest for my little imprint to publish a hardcover library edition. Libraries are in such a state of flux right now (only partly due to Covid) that it’s hard to predict just what they’ll be able to acquire and in what formats. You might ask them if they’ve ordered the Crystal Cave trilogy omnibus edition. If they have that, they’ll probably get the new one (the Enterprise omnibus).

    • Yes, here’s my recipe, Margaret–
      2½ cups prickly pear Juice
      1 box pectin
      3 tbsp lemon juice
      4 cups sugar

      To make the juice, boil 2-3 doz. tunas (the fruit), covered with water. Mash the fruit, cooking/mashing until the tunas turn opaque. Remove fruit, strain (carefully).

      Put juice, lemon juice and pectin in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add sugar and continue with a rolling boil for several minutes until it rolls off a spoon. Place in hot jars leaving about 1/4″ headspace. Waterbath 10-15 minutes. I store in the back of the fridge. Makes about 6 half-pints.

  8. Interesting fact about the coyote diet of mesquite pods–we have coyote, mule deer and javelina here in Saddlebrooke, AZ. Glad to hear that coyotes eat the pods too! Since the Big Horn fire drove many animals away from the Catalina Mountains, I’m sure the sheep must be eating them too!

  9. Thank you Susan for sharing insights into the plants and animals in your area. I am in upstate New York near the shore of Lake Ontario and gardening is quite different here.
    Also, you are so correct about wearing masks and following the guidelines of the experts. We did this in NY State and things are much better than they were.

    • Yes, interesting. But he kept on producing books just the same: over 2 dozen in his relatively short (62 years) lifetime. I’m sure he would approve of books that don’t require the slaughter of trees. 🙂

  10. Greetings from hot and humid Northern Ohio. We have had the same temperatures as Texas for some reason. Our governor only suggests masks, so we have been home since March. We do have the luxury of curbside pick up for groceries; in the beginning we treated ourselves to front porch grocery delivery. Our numbers had a jump from 100 cases in 3 months to 152 in a week. According to zip code, everyone was blaming some migrant farm workers, but it turned out to be two small churches and 16 traced to a baby shower along with a few of the workers.

    Our county neighbors a large amusement park which just opened this week and we are also located near a Great Lake so numbers from those counties have already jumped, they were testing hundreds of workers from the islands this weekend. I am very afraid I am stuck home for the long haul.

    • Maryellen, thanks for sharing those numbers. On the national news, we don’t get to see the regional situations. It’s hard to make this real unless we can hear about others’ real experiences. Especially interesting in your note: people’s assumption that it was the farm workers when the churches and the baby shower generated the hot spots.

      If I could wish for one thing here, it would be curbside deliveries. But that’s a forlorn hope: we’ve just managed to teach Fed Ex, UPS, and (sometimes) Amazon how to find us.

      • Migrant farm workers in South Western Ontario actually are disproportionately infected with COVID-19, but rather than blame them (they caught the virus here) their illness has sparked a massive movement to improve their living and working conditions–long overdue. Even the Conservative Ontario government is on board. Meanwhile it’s hard to eat tomatoes with a clear conscience.

        • Good news–wish that were happening in Texas, especially in the meat-packing plants. Appreciate your comment about tomatoes. Here, it’s difficult to eat supermarket meat without guilt. We’ve cut back as far as we can.

  11. I don’t actually wish I lived in Texas — the Connecticut shore along Long Island Sound is my beautiful sanctuary — but when I read your descriptions of Meadow Knoll I feel I could be very happy there too!

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