Tuesday, December 12, 2017

5: The Lovers

# 5  The Lovers:

Oh, vanilla!  It is one of the lovelier sets of flavors and aromas the world has been given.  And what we go through to have it.

Europeans found vanilla already prized in the “New World” upon their arrival.  It comes from the seed pods of the vanilla orchid, V. planifolia.  In the 1520s, Cortes sent vanilla back to the “Old World” and Europeans were given a taste of this treasure.  Cultivation outside it’s native land would take just over three centuries.

The orchid first flowered in Europe in 1806.  Cuttings from that plant were shared in Europe and the French soon sent it to their colonies.  But pollination of the short-lived flowers was a problem.  The flowers don’t self-pollinate naturally, a flap keeps most bees out of the flower, and the bee that lifted the flap and pollinated the orchid flower so well in Mexico for centuries didn’t travel.  That meant hand-pollination would be required to produce a crop.  And that wasn’t easy.

In 1841, a 12 year old slave, Edmond Albius, on the island of Reunion found a method still in use today.  Using a beveled sliver of bamboo, the flower’s flap is lifted and the thumb is then used to transfer the pollen.  It’s the first of many labor intensive steps in growing then curing the seed pods from which we get vanilla.

Three major varieties can be obtained today:  Bourbon or Bourbon-Madagascar, Mexican, and Tahitian.  All have gotten exceedingly pricey - a gallon going for about 500 dollars as 2018 approaches.  But one cannot substitute the artificial.  Trust me, it’s a high, thin flavor.  It’s not the same in any but the most superficial, rather annoying way.  It lacks depth and warmth and all the little side notes of the real vanillas.

You may have noticed in looking at the ingredients that go into Trade Winds I chose to use Tahitian vanilla.  To me, the flowery, higher notes it possesses perfectly matched the spice cookie I envisioned.  But “flowery” and “rich” and “warm” and all the other words to describe the complexities that come from vanilla are not the way I differentiate the three vanillas.

To me, they are like lovers.

Tahitian is like first love, tentative and fragile yet intense and sure.  It has excitement and energy.  It’s Romeo and Juliet - hold the suicide.

Madagascar is the married couple, still passionate, holding hands, exchanging knowing looks.  Solid and dependable, yes.  But ever-so romantic at heart.

Mexican is the pair in the midst of an affair.  It is the soul of passion, a transcendent warmth that commands the moment.  It is pure romance.

I’m lucky to have a source for all three major varieties of vanilla:  The Vanilla Company, https://www.vanillaqueen.com.  The owner, the Vanilla Queen Patricia Rain, works to help small growers and processors around the world begin and maintain production.  And she provides pure vanillas for bakers like me to use and you to enjoy.

And I don’t just enjoy vanilla.  I love them all.  I love having them around just for their fragrances.  They are one of the joys of being a baker.

I hope you enjoy my sharing my thoughts about baking and enjoy my biscotti - my craft. 

Feel free to log in and comment or ask questions.  I look forward to hearing from you.


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