Nobody has written a memorable poem on the mesquite. Yet the mesquite has entered into the social, economic, and aesthetic life of the land; it has made history and has been painted by artists. In the homely chronicles of the Southwest its thorns stick, its roots burn into bright coals, its trunks make fence posts, its lovely leaves wave. To live beside this beautiful, often pernicious, always interesting and highly characteristic tree—or bush—and to know nothing of its significance is to be cheated out of a part of life. It is but one of a thousand factors peculiar to the Southwest and to the land’s cultural inheritance. (J Frank Dobie, Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest, 1952)
[Mesquite is] “the devil with roots. It scabs my cows, spooks my horses, and gives little shade.” (W.T. Waggoner, pioneer northwest Texas rancher, as qtd on Texas Almanac, texasalmanac.com)
For many years, a very unique mesquite tree grew in our front yard. This singular tree stood about twenty feet tall, and had a prickly pear cactus growing in it, right at the crown where the branches began to reach out from the trunk. A wild vine that began in the ground at the trunk wound its way up and around the trunk, where it threaded through the paddle-shaped arms of the cactus, up through some of the tree’s branches. During the spring, miniature yellow flowers bloomed on that vine. That tree seemed to be its own biosphere of some sort, and it was lovely. We have no idea the age of the tree; it pre-existed our presence in our house. We could not account for the presence of the cactus growing from its trunk, except to assume that some errant cactus seed tossed by wind or dropped by way of some creature landed at just the right spot for taking root where it landed.Sadly, a violent, late spring storm destroyed the tree in 2010, breaking the tree entirely in half, leaving one half stretched across the length of our front yard and the other half vulnerable to crashing through the roof of our home should it be blown by a strong wind. I mourned for that tree when we had it removed; I felt we had lost a close family friend. The appearance of its feathery green leaves, which arrived nearly simultaneously with the large, bright yellow, tulip-shaped blooms that adorned the embedded prickly pear, signaled to us each year the passage of yet another winter, and announced the arrival of yet another spring. I mourn this loss even more now, as I write about our mesquite friend. Until I decided to memorialize in my post on mesquite flour this bio-diverse entity that stood so beautifully in our yard for so long, I didn’t realize that we failed to record our tree-friend in photos worthy of publishing on a blog. It was always the prop for our pictures, and never the star. Through the years it acted as a backdrop for first day of school pictures, Easter pictures, and graduation pictures. Unfortunately, we seem to have neglected to capture the essence of its sacred life by neglecting to mark its own right of individual existence in photographs.
Lack of photos notwithstanding, we did love our mesquite tree. Many people love mesquite trees, for various reason. Some people admire the mesquite tree for its heartiness and versatility; it is used to make furniture and it adds flavor to grilled meats. Still other people value the mesquite tree as a food source, and this aspect of the mesquite tree is also what should be of interest to those of us who suffer from Celiac disease. The pods that grow on mesquite tree, when ground, make a unique, flavorful gluten-free flour.
Some people, however, dislike mesquite trees; these people view the mesquite tree as a weed that wastes and mars the land on which it grows and siphons off more than its fair share of underground water. These pestilent-type qualities of the mesquite tree viewed so negatively by some people are the very same qualities that made it an important food source for ancient peoples who lived in arid areas in South America and the Southwestern portion of North America. Desert cultures on these continents gathered the seeds from the mesquite trees, then toasted and ground them into flour that they could store for later use. The flour was used to make drinks, bread, and tortillas, as well as atole, a type of porridge made from mesquite meal. Because it’s made from the pod, or bean, of the mesquite tree, mesquite flour is high in protein. It is also a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Moreover, it is low in carbohydrates, and even though the flour tastes sweet, it has a low glycemic index.
Mesquite flour does have a strong, distinctive flavor that makes it more suitable as a lesser, rather than major, portion of a flour blend for baking. With notes of cinnamon, chocolate, and coffee, the flour is an excellent addition to cakes, pancakes, and other baked goods. Since its unique taste makes its presence known in any dish or drink in which it’s used, people using it for the first time should proceed with a bit of caution. Start out by replacing only about 25% of your flour blend with mesquite flour. Since the flour is high in protein, you will want to use it to replace one of the higher protein flours in the blend of flours you’re using for whatever you’re baking.
Like most gluten-free flours, mesquite flour is somewhat expensive. I order mine from Nuts.com, which seems to have the most reasonable price for this difficult to find flour. Whole Foods stores in Austin and San Antonio usually carry mesquite flour on their shelves, but I’ve not found it at the Sprouts stores in San Antonio or Austin.
Mesquite flour, with its cinnamon-y flavor, works for breakfast well as for desserts. I use it in brownies to enhance the cocoa with a nice, subtle spicy flavor; these brownies are reminiscent of Oaxacan chocolate.
Gluten-Free Mesquite Flour Brownies
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
200 g Organic sugar
32 g Authentic Foods superfine brown rice flour
32 g Mesquite flour
1 tsp Aluminum-free baking powder
3 Eggs, beaten
2 tsp Almond extract
40 g Unsweetened dutched cocoa
Preheat oven to 350˚. Butter an 8” square pan. In a bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Pour it into the pan and bake for twenty minutes, or until done. Remove from oven. Frost when cool.
110 g Powdered sugar
30 g Unsweetened cocoa
2 tbls Butter, melted
2 tbls Milk
1 tsp Almond extract
Mix the sugar and cocoa. Add the melted butter, milk, and extract. Mix until smooth. Add more sugar or more milk, if necessary.