AS MUCH AS THE MESQUITE tree is detested in Texas, it must be given some credit for producing marketable goods in the 21st Century. In the last five years, the number of people retailing a mesquite product has skyrocketed. Consumers can buy mesquite furniture, mesquite lamps, mesquite crosses for their wall hangings and mesquite fireplace mantels. You can eat mesquite jelly, cook with mesquite meal and sprinkle mesquite beans on your grill to give your meat mesquite flavor, if you are not already barbecuing with 100 percent pure mesquite wood.
All over Texas, from Sequin to Uvalde to West Texas, carpenters are making beautiful mesquite tables, chairs and beds. The floor in the San Angelo Fine Arts Museum is made of mesquite wood. Many attractive objects are produced with mesquite wood in the Concho Valley by artisans such as Milton Adkins, John Walker, Donald Keeney and Lawrence Dannheim.
John Walker, a native of Coke County, began working with mesquite wood about 16 years ago. Although his first creations were for family and friends, John eventually began to fill enough orders for benches or tables that he was able to work full time in his John Walker Gallery on Chadbourne Street in San Angelo. He also creates chairs and rockers as well as headboards for beds and armoires of various sizes.
John has a line of his furniture called the “Lone Star” pieces. Each one has a star whittled into the wood. He also likes to attach wrought iron to mesquite pieces such as benches. John has watched the number of people working with mesquite increase. He estimates that about 150 Texans make furniture from mesquite at present.
He continued discussing working with mesquite, adding, “mesquite is a wonderful wood — for furniture it is ideal.” John explained that mesquite undergoes very little shrinking or swelling. Oak shrinks and swells about eight times as much as mesquite does. John says some clients like the worm hole wood and others prefer the refined wood. He works with both.
Milton Adkins and his wife, Veiba, also enjoy making furniture from mesquite wood. They purchase their wood at the Ingram Texas Mill run by Bruce and Steve Oehler. Their most successful product has been domino sets. They make single sets, double sets, and the double nine sets, all arranged in beautiful wooden boxes. They also make chess, checker and wahoo playing boards, as well as lazy susans and jewelry boxes.
The Adkins work as a team. Milton makes the object and Veiba paints them with either satin or glossy urethane. Milton says the wood is so hard that he has to use carbide- tipped bits and saw blades. When they are ready to sell their mesquite creations, they go to places like the Annual Mesquite Show in Fredericksburg and Six Flags over Texas, a show where they’ve sold their wares for nine years. Their products, made in their home in Grape Creek, are stamped with their trademark, “The Woodshed.”
Mesquite wood is catching interest in all parts of the state. Mesquite Furniture of Texas in Sequin sells mantels, furniture flooring and lumber. The Texas mesquite Company in Bertram, near Austin, sells similar products. You can make purchases at the companies’ web sites via the Internet, and such one-of-a kind pieces can be expensive.
Mesquite Bean Mercantile in Vidor, Texas, advertises a mesquite duck call for $68.95 and a mesquite butcher block table for $849.95.
The items are very pretty and special in their own way.
Ken Rogers, a wood technologist for Texas Forest Service in Lufkin says, “mesquite is one of the most remarkable woods of any in North America. Its beauty and working properties rival those of other fine domestic hardwoods such as oak, walnut and cherry, as well as the rainforest hardwoods.” Rogers continues by saying that mesquite has more than one color. “Its swirling grain, colors and occasional character defects offer a hidden treasure.” Of course you have to treat each log by drying it in a solar kiln or in a vacuum kiln before working with it to rid the lumber of any insects.
Donald Keeney makes beautiful crosses and other objects out of mesquite wood. Because his crosses are used in homes, as well as churches for religious worship, he calls them a “Message in Mesquite.”
Lawrence Dannheim and his wife Oretha sell mesquite products he makes in his shop in Mertzon, Texas. They market their creations at arts and craft fairs like Market Days at Christoval. Dannheim, who also has his mesquite creations available in the Mertzon True Value Hardware Store, makes items such as coffee tables with mesquite slab tops, mantels, lamp holders, and clocks. Lawrence said, “I started making lamps. Then I made different objects to have variety.”
Keith Hoffman has a sawmill at Paint Rock, Texas, where Lawrence takes mesquite logs to be cut. Then he brings them home to shape on a lathe. He says if a log has character in it, he turns it a certain way on the lathe to bring out its unique quality and makes it look good. For a lamp, he may spend two hours turning it and two or three more hours finishing it. Lawrence says a green piece of wood turns better on the lathe, but a piece of wood cut four or five years earlier has more character, which may be evidenced by colors or holes.
Master Floor of Fort Worth makes mesquite flooring like that used at the San Angelo Fine Arts Museum. The surface is composed of varied blocks that are 2 inches wide and 2 or more inches long. The visible surface of each block shows the annual rings of the mesquite tree.
For years southwestern ladies have made mesquite bean jelly. The following recipe, found at a Texas Aggie web site will get you started:
Wash the beans and try to avoid using those with worm holes. Put the beans in a pot and cover with a little more than a quart of water. Boil for twenty minutes. Let beans cool and strain the liquid through a clean cloth. Put 4 cups of juice in a clean pot, add 1 package of Sure-jell and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Add 4 cups of sugar, bring to a boil, and boil for 1 minute. (You have to continue boiling more than this time. In fact, boil until the jelly falls off your spoon in big lumps. Otherwise, you will have mesquite Bean Syrup.) Pour into clean canning jars and seal while it is hot.
The recipe is courtesy of Judy and Bill Jones of Houston and Gladys and Bob Zienert of Macedona.
Indians used the mesquite bean extensively in their cooking. They ground the beans into meal they called pinole. It has the consistency of corn meal. One business that is pushing mesquite meal the most today is Cocina de Vega, Inc., which interestingly is located in Golden Valley, Minnesota. They have their mesquite meal in 20 stores in Minnesota, 7 stores in California and 1 store in Arizona, according to their advertisement. They grind the entire mesquite bean (pod) and produce a meal that is 11 percent to 17 percent protein. On their web site they provide recipes for pancakes, tortillas, muffins and cookies made partially with regular corn meal or flour with mesquite meal added.
As you peruse various recipes that use mesquite beans, you will also find a recipe for wine. The Indians, Pimas to be exact, were known to ferment the pods to make an intoxicating drink so they were quite a bit ahead of the white man in that undertaking.
Although ranchers don’t much like the mesquite, many folks have found a use for larger trees as a source for hardwood. The limited height of mesquites in West Texas does not produce a long limb or trunk, or one with a large diameter. However, in places like Uvalde the mesquite seems to receive the right amount of nutrients and water to produce a larger plank of wood, hence more furniture is made from trees grown in that area.
West Texans who fight the mesquite may have to admit that some people have found good uses for this albatross. Although none of the mesquite wood products are sold in a large enough quantity to offset the headaches caused by the fast growing water-stealing mesquite, at least some people have found positive uses for it.
Artisans have definitely found ways to use the oft times detested mesquite tree.
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