Few culinarians would think to do much with the mesquite tree beyond using its flavorful wood for grilling. After all, the fruit of the mesquite – the pods – are hardly enticing. Unlike, say, the beautiful, beet-like fruits of the prickly pear cacti, mesquite pods are drab-brown and bitter. They can be milled for flour, but no one is making gift shop candy out of them.
Credit Ernie and Joe Riley for seeing the mesquite pod’s inner beauty. The couple – who began by jamming blueberries from their native Maine – spent much of their lives looking for methods to enshrine the native flavors of the Sonoran desert under their Cotton Country Jams banner. Their masterpiece: mesquite amber syrup.
Tangy, sweet and just a little earthy, the syrup will add a touch of the desert to any application that calls for sweetening. Warmed slightly, it will send your pancakes into Sonoran orbit. Or use it as a cocktail sweetener to make a mesquite old-fashioned or a mesquite mint julep. Also try rubbing it into a strip steak before grilling for a juicy Sonoran zing. Now headed by Ernie and Joe’s granddaughter Amanda Hawkins, Cotton Country offers mesquite amber syrup ($8 for 12 oz.) online at cottoncountryjams.com. It will be available at Valley farmers’ markets in the fall.
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