Mesquite Livin’: A Gastronomical Essay

BY Laura Orta

It is a Friday night. My cousins and I are out on a run for things that are needed to make Saturday happen. Strolling down the aisles of HEB, the local grocery store, we pass through all the necessary aisles: produce, poultry, dairy, canned goods, drinks, and the list goes on. Our cart has a ten pound brisket, chicken, sausage, potatoes, spices, avocados, three medium-sized tomatoes, serrano peppers, two whole onions, cilantro leaves, a can of ranch style beans (my favorite), a bag of regular beans, and a bag of rice. As we wait behind a few people in the checkout line I am sure to grab a tall, skinny red Gatorade bottle, the one with the twisty top, from the refrigerators that are by the checkout lines and a bag of Sabritones that are in the checkout passageway. When all that is done we drive the five minutes back to my Tia’s house and begin preparations for the barbecue.

It is a blessing to be able to sit alongside your family, with the radio on in the background, jokes, laughter, and good food. Somehow, eventually, there is a beautifully, dark green and light green delicious half frozen, half thawed out sandía that I am guessing one of my tías or somebody had bought from a watermelon stand. However, whoever bought it might have just gotten it from one of the stores close by. Whatever the case, that sucker is making everyone’s mouth water. It is around six o’clock in the evening and still very hot. The moscas are flying around because they love to be a bother, but it’s fine because we are preoccupied by my two older cousins who are bringing out the TV and setting it up. It strikes me, we are going to watch the boxing match. It is like this every time there is a big boxing match, a big football game, a spurs game, or a party.

Preparation is key to anything and everything. Everyone is busy creating an inviting atmosphere for our get-together. My dad is busy doing his part at the barbecue pit. When it comes to barbecuing, there are important rules that must be followed, at least my dad’s rules. Before we can smell the food, there is the lovely smell of the wood burning in the pit. This wood is of a certain kind, and it is highly popular in the southern central part of the United States, Texas. From what has been said, this particular wood, mesquite, is popular among barbecues made by our fellow Mexicans in the area. I remember going to get wood as a child with my dad, tíos , and cousins, in our 1994, sky blue, two door, Ford Ranger. This place was on some ranch, that was hidden by country and roads. Piles of wood could be seen in every direction, and the men would be out picking the huge pieces to take back home. I would try my hardest to carry the small but heavy pieces.

Wood is only one aspect of a good barbecue. There is also the making of the fire. Fire is a delicacy. For my dad this process is crucial; it could be the reason why his barbecue is so good. After the wood is chopped, my dad picks out two pieces of wood that appear to be eight inches long and three inches in width. Then he has me, or any other person who wants to be occupied, pick up random pieces of wood and branches that are light and skinny. He rolls up newspapers in balls and places them strategically between the two horizontally, parallel logs. Then, with the small pieces of lightweight wood, he makes a little bridge over the paper balls, connecting the two parallel logs. He strikes a match and lights the paper on fire. One thing I will always remember is him saying not to use lighter fluid because it gives the food a bad taste. That is obviously not wanted. He opens the side door to the pit and lets the air circulate throughout for a good fifteen minutes. The fire is started a bit before noon on these days of fun because brisket is being made, and if you want it to be tender, juicy, and delicious, it is absolutely important to spend your time on it. Brisket takes six to eight hours to make, but it is well worth the process. Usually, my dad does this because God blessed him with the talent of cooking.

Aside from the wood and fire preparations, there is the time to prepare the food. The very first item to be made is the ten pound brisket, that was purchased at the store the night before, like all the other food items. This elegant, time consuming item lies on a cutting board, as my dad lathers it with spices, such as salt, pepper, garlic powder, and garlic salt. When the brisket is a beauty my dad places it in the pit, where the fire has been glowing for a half hour. This part is another one of my dad’s important barbecuing rules. He says that the brisket must be placed on the side of the fire, away from it, because if not the highlight of our get-together will be badly burnt, which is an occasional issue when my dad is not in charge. The brisket is left in the pit to smoke for a good three hours, while my dad gives it little doctor visits every half hour. When the three hours are up and the brisket is brown and good smellin’ he wraps it with foil paper and puts it back into the pit for four to five hours, and he checks on it and determines when it is ready. Around the time the brisket is about to be done, all the other essential parts of the evening meal are prepared as well. The rice, beans (borracho and ranch style beans), pico de gallo, and all the other sides, followed by the drinks, cups, plates, that are set up on the picnic tables in the backyard of my tía’s house. Finally, at around seven-ish everyone’s hard work from the night before and on the beautiful Saturday is accomplished, and the air is conquered by the delicious smells of our heavenly food.

The sandía, joy, the sun still in the sky, the heat in the air, with occasional warm breezes, the talk shows before the boxing match, the whiff of the scrumptious brisket in and around us, it has been a successful day and there is a look of satisfaction on everyone’s face, especially on my dad’s. There is extra food we made beside the brisket, and sides. There is chicken and beef fajitas, ribs, sausage, corn on the cob, and baked potatoes. We make brisket tacos, fajita tacos, sausage tacos, with the toasted tortillas we bought from the panadería down the street. My plate is filled with portions of everything, and a bit too many ranch style beans.

As the sun finally sets, I get this overwhelming feeling of happiness and it reminds me of the show Duck Dynasty, when the Robertson’s gather around a table with tea filled in mason jars and gorgeous looking food, smiles, laughter, and happiness. When we are all together it is smiles, laughter, happiness, and storytelling. The storytelling comes at the end of the big event on T.V, which is around eleven. That is when one of my cousins comes out and surprises us with nachos. This day is never ending and we are okay with that, but when three o’clock in the morning rolls up, we reluctantly make our way to our cars and head home.

Pico De Gallo 

  • Dice 3 serrano peppers
  • Dice 1 whole white onion
  • Dice 3 small tomatoes (medium sized)
  • Dice 5 leaves of cilantro
  • Dice 5 avocados (cut in half and scoop into bowl and smash)
  • Mix all ingredients in bowl

Borracho beans  

  • Boil water
  • 1 pound of pinto beans
  • Pork skins
  • Slice wieners (quarter long)
  • Dice onions
  • Dice tomatoes
  • Diced cilantro
  • Add a little bit of salt

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