Outdoors with Luke: Mesquite Beans Make Great Coffee | Sports

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Everything in the natural world has a purpose.

This purpose may not always be easy to identify, but everything from a humble earthworm to a giraffe fits into a unique slot in the grand scheme of things.

Take the mesquite tree for example. For many ranchers, it is just a useless plant that sucks water from the ground and quickly covers land that could be used to graze livestock. But the tree has also long served many useful purposes for man. Beans and mesquite roots have been proven to make up more than 20% of the diet of Native Americans living in the Southwest, especially in Texas, where 70% of mesquite trees grow. Mesquite provides shade for livestock and habitat for wildlife. It provides food and shelter for many species of birds, white-tailed deer and mules, feral hogs, and many small mammals native to Texas.

The mesquite pod was a staple in the Native American diet and was even considered a luxury by some tribes. The pods were ground into flour and made into bread or mixed with water to form a sweet and nutritious atole which, when fermented, produced a weak beer. Honey made from the nectar of mesquite flowers is considered a delicacy. Women used mesquite bark to make diapers, skirts and other clothing. They wove baskets, ropes and twine from mesquite fibers.

Mesquite bark was also used to make a poultice to treat wounds and illnesses. The gum exuded from mesquite trunks was used as a candy, as a glue to repair pottery, and as a black dye. Unfinished mesquite lumber was used for fence posts and corrals. It can also be used as boiler fuel, wood chips, flakes, flour, animal feed, mulch, particle board, insulation batting and charcoal. The trees have been used as ornamental plants in landscaping homes. The wood is very hard and has been successfully made into furniture such as cabinets, game tables and desks.

I recently interviewed Victoria Cappadona (www.cappadonaranch.com) who has turned the thousands of mesquite trees on the family ranch in Deep South Texas into a business. It grinds the beans into flavorful coffee which is actually not coffee at all but a rich, naturally sweet drink that is brewed just like coffee. (I’ll tell you exactly how to make this tasty drink from beans you harvest yourself in a moment). Mesquite bean tea, jelly, and flour are also produced on the ranch and marketed through the website and other locations.

For many years I hunted in areas where there were mesquites and watched wildlife feeding on the sweet, ripe beans that fell to the ground. I noticed that the beans don’t all ripen at the same time. Last week, while picking dried beans to make coffee, I noticed as many immature green beans on the trees as those that had already dried out. Most Texas mesquites are honey mesquites and the pods are naturally sweet. Sometimes try chewing a dry bean pod picked directly from a mesquite tree. You will be surprised at its sweet taste.

LET’S MAKE MESQUITE COFFEE – Last week I posted a photo of dry mesquite beans I picked on social media and mentioned that I made a coffee substitute from the dry pods . Responses to the post were instantaneous and plentiful. It was obvious that people were extremely interested in learning how to make this delicious, nutritious but caffeine-free drink. The native tribes used their stone mortars as tools to grind beans, but we have a fully functional electric coffee grinder that I used to grind the pods.

The process is quite simple. Start by placing the pods on a baking dish and roast them at 350 degrees until the pods take on the desired roast. I suggest keeping them in the oven until they are a dark brown, which is equivalent to a dark roast coffee. They become very brittle and easily break into small pieces that fit in the grinder. The seeds are very hard and most will remain intact. The pod is the part that makes the coffee and it will easily grind to the consistency of cornmeal. Once you have your coffee ground, you have two choices; either make cowboy coffee which I prefer, or put in an old fashioned percolator and let the coffee perk up.

The cowboy coffee method is better because boiling water seems to extract flavor better from ground beans. I use about a tablespoon of ground beans per cup of coffee. Once the proper amount of water has reached a rolling boil, add the ground beans and continue boiling for about four minutes. This extracts all the flavor from the beans. I like a bit of sweetener in my regular coffee, but I found mesquite bean coffee to be perfect without the added sugar.

Another method that works well at camp is to simply place the dried (whole) beans in a dry cast iron skillet and slowly roast them until the beans are black and brittle. Next, mash the beans in the pan, add water and boil until the water turns dark and looks like coffee. Of course, you can also remove the grounds from the pan and make coffee in a coffee maker. Add a little cold water and most soil will settle to the bottom. I have a small sieve that I pour the coffee into and that removes the grounds in my cup of coffee, but both methods work just fine.

One of the responses to my social media post about mesquite bean coffee was something like this: “Why don’t you just open a can of Folgers and brew some coffee the standard way?”

My response was that honestly I like the flavor of coffee better than mesquite beans and there is something special about using natural products from nature which are provided to those of us who know the utilize. I am a caffeine addict and still enjoy old fashioned coffee beans. My mesquite bean coffee is just an added treat!

Contact outdoor writer Luke Clayton through his website www.catfishradio.org

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