There are few things that share as strong of an association with the South Texas landscape as the mesquite tree.
Ask a lifelong resident of the area about the yellow bean pods drooping from their branches, and they may return a blank stare. What most people do not know is that the mesquite bean has a seemingly inexhaustible amount of uses.
Victoria Cappadona, along with her family, have made it their personal mission to change that.
When you meet Victoria and her family the first thing you are likely to notice is the warm and inviting nature the family exudes. Warmer, even, than the mesquite bean jelly with chili pequin they sell, which along with five other products are now competing H-E-B Quest for Texas' Best contest.
A completely family owned and operated business, the Cappadona Ranch produces five products made primarily of mesquite beans. The beans used in Cappadona’s products come entirely from the family’s massive cattle ranch in Linn, Texas, and are harvested entirely by hand.
The idea for the unusual products was born out of a terrible drought that befell the ranch in 2012. While driving through the ranch on an unusually dry day, Victoria asked her father-in-law what she could possibly do with all of the mesquite beans, the only thing that seemed to be growing in the parched landscape.
He told her that, aside from using them to feed cattle during exceptionally dry periods, that he remembered that they could be used for jelly. Inspired, Victoria started fiddling with recipes and began selling mesquite jelly online to family friends.
“From there her sales grew more and more every year, they more or less just doubled,” Operations Director of Cappadona Ranch Jacklyn Cappadona-Jackson said.
For many, the product was a way of remembering days spent on the ranch as children. “It’s like a memory in a jar,” Victoria’s husband Justin said.
For others, the idea of eating mesquite beans is entirely new. A goal of Victoria’s is to educate the local community of the benefits of the mesquite bean and other native plants that are not only healthy but grow wild in the Rio Grande Valley.
The Cappadona’s commitment to education is most evident in their website. Along with selling their products online, several recipes can be found to utilize the products like mesquite bean tea for example.
Jacklyn said one of Victoria’s better recipes is the banana nut bread with mesquite flower. Instead of needing vanilla and other sweeteners, the flower is used because of it is more flavorful on its own.
The use of mesquite beans as a food product is not new. The yellow super food used to make up 20 percent of the diet of indigenous peoples such as the Coahuila Indians, a fact that Victoria believes is evidence of the bean’s superfood properties.
One thing is for certain, though, the Cappadona’s exist in a unique spot in the market place. They have taken a non-value commodity and created five products for consumers.
The Cappadona Ranch is the only company in the United States that provides mesquite bean products. The majority of mesquite bean products come from places as far away as Argentina and Peru.
To be sold in H.E.B.s all across Texas would not only validate their hard work but would also be received as an honor by the Cappadona’s.
The products Cappadona Ranch sell certainly are made for the love of Texans.
Nuts and Cows
If you were to imagine a person to epitomize the face of small businesses in the Valley, that person would look strikingly similar to Elizabeth Davis.
The single mother and Reynosa native has grown her business, Nuts & Cows, from a single table at a local farmer’s markets to being on the cusp of having her products on the shelves of H-E-B’s statewide.
Davis attributes the whimsical name of her company to her son.
“When I was starting to name my business, I was looking to relate the name with my son, Edward,” she said. “I was just thinking about the name and ‘What does he like?’”
Then, she said, she saw a picture of her son running between two cows against a background of pecan trees. At that moment, the moniker Nuts & Cows was born.
That’s telling of how deeply ingrained Davis’ children are into her business, a business, she said, she runs for them.
When asked Davis admits she cannot explain the pride of her product, with it being so close to being shelved at H-E-B and the fact the name was inspired by her son.
She believes that running her own business allows her to be the best mother she can.
“One of the best things that Nuts & Cows and [my other business] Mi Cocina by the Hour bring to me is to be a present mother, as a single mother that is very important to me,” she said. “I have the opportunity to be with them and something that a small business allows us a women is to take care of our families. It’s our time, it’s our time to work. It’s something I’m able to do with my kids, to involve them.”
These beliefs spread to Davis’ practices as a businesswoman. For her, it’s all about impact.
Without the community, Davis believes that she would not have made it this far.
“I’m the one that produces the products and got the inspiration from my kids, but I couldn’t have done it without a chain of quality people,” she said, adding that she hopes to return that sentiment. “That’s my goal, to help people develop their business, because when small businesses succeed, the whole community succeeds.”
Part of this success involves educating customers on ways to eat healthier.
Pecans have the highest amount of antioxidants but sometimes people just see proteins, sugar and carbohydrates.
Davis stresses there are other factors that are important, not just the ingredients.
“Someone who is working out may prefer peanut butter, but someone who is Keto may choose Buttery,” she said.
Buttery, is one of the many products that Davis’ company sells. It is a pecan butter and comes in a variety of flavors ranging vegan sea salt to decadent cookie butter, each of them better than the last.
“For me, it’s all about a quality product,” Davis said.
Out of more than 700 entries, the two small businesses are finalists in the Fifth Annual H-E-B Primo Picks Quest for Texas Best competition. Cappadona and Davis will represent their respective companies as they go head-to-head with 23 other contenders Aug. 9 and 10 at the Central Texas Food Bank in Austin.
Thursday Aug. 2 the two finalists will be at H-E-B located 200 U.S. Expressway 83 and 2nd Street in McAllen. Their products will be available for sample.