Mesquite Bean Ice Cream
Chef Rocky Barnett sun-dries his own mesquite pods, then grinds them to a fragrant powder for this silky frozen treat.
makes About 3 1/2 cups
Wood chips? Whatever. Rocky Barnette is picky about mesquite beans. He often stands beneath the three trees in his front yard on the outskirts of Marfa, Texas, contemplating the weather until summer rains draw nigh in the Chihuahuan Desert. Only then will Barnette gather the pods that rattle like snakes when dried.
West Texas ranchers consider mesquite (pronounced “mess-KEET,” not “muh-SKEET”) a thorny nuisance. But long before cattle roamed these plains, Coahuiltecans ate the beans raw. The Pima parched them over hot coals. The Tohono O’odham ground them against bedrock. Prosopis glandulosa and P. velutina—the species commonly called honey and velvet mesquite, itself a word derived from the Nahuatl mizquitl—have survived here for at least 2 million years. Now, that’s a tree capable of weathering tough times.
Barnette, chef and co-owner of Marfa’s Capri Restaurant, and co-author of Cooking in Marfa: Welcome, We’ve Been Expecting You, sun-dries the pods, processes them in a high-powered blender, and uses the resulting powder to season everything from sourdough waffles to ice cream.
His mesquite ice cream tastes like caramel and smoke.
In a part of rural Texas that lacks major infrastructure, making the most of what you have is an essential act of creativity. While the rest of us can order mesquite powder online ($14.95 for 1 pound; matt-monarch.com), Barnette still waits all year for the beans to drop next to his house, a hyper-localized expression of flavor we can’t help but admire. —Shane Mitchell
Featured in: The 2020 Saveur 100: 41-50
- 12 large egg yolks
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 3⁄4 cup sugar
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1⁄3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. mesquite powder
- 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and scraped (or substitute 2 tsp. vanilla extract)