Cookin' With Leo
The Vanilla Queen and Vanilla Info
Well now, you, all my faithful readers, that peruse my columns each month know that I have expounded on such things as spices or all sort, teas, coffees, beer, wine, tequila, and other stuff that belongs in kitchens, outdoor grill areas, and other assorted places around the house common to good eating and fun entertainment. So, I decided that it would be sorta' educational, so to speak, if I did more of such mind enlightening works. Now, even though as a sailor way back when, I have been to many places on this planet that were natural for such items, it should be noted that my calling then has no relation to my present endeavors, whatever. So, in order to acquaint myself with such anomalies, I attempted to contact my Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother, who has given me so much enlightenment in the past. Well, at least I knew she had a Fairy friend who roams the area where Ponce De Leon said there was a Fountain of Youth, Aztec Annie, I assumed would know something about Vanilla since she seems to be from that area. Well, that was a mistake, seems Aztec Annie and my Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother know absolutely nothing about vanilla, other than they love the stuff in any form whatsoever and care little about its generics. And for now, at least, my Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother will avoid me if she thinks I will ask her questions. She would rather enlighten me with her magic wand when I am not in an enlightening mood. Thus I was forced to turn to other sources to acquaint myself with Vanilla. And here is what I found. Vanilla is that great smelling stuff in little brown bottles. By itself it doesn't taste nearly as good as it smells. You put it into cookies and cakes and spiced pies and breads for more flavor. Almost everyone knows about vanilla ice cream, much more than they know and like all the other 99 or so Ice Cream Parlor flavors.
For starters, let's be clear about this. You all know me as a 'Buy American' guy, so I don't want to start off by confusing you. Vanilla does not grow in America, unless it is in some South Florida, or Texas border area. And, thus most of it is not processed in the good ol' USA. So, if we want it we will have to get it from the places in the world that grow it and process it. And, here is some more on the subject of where to get it. Many Americans like to take cruises in the Caribbean and touch ports in Mexico and the various Islands, and we all like to come home with our bargains. But, be wary of buying big jugs of Vanilla for unbelievable cheap prices. We all know or think we know that Vanilla is from Mexico, likely as far back as when the Spanish Conquistadors first found it there and brought some of it back to Spain in the early 16th century. And, yes way back then it was Vanilla, but now a lot of the Caribbean Islands and the Mexican government do little to inspect or see to the purity of the product. What you will likely buy is very little Vanilla and a lot of garbage, red dye, and such other junk stuff that will have an aroma of vanilla. And, to be sure, such junk may even make you sick or worse. Thus that big bargain you got in Aruba or thereabouts you might as well toss out, and I suggest you don't even think of giving it to your mother in law.
Ok, so where do we get the good stuff, you ask? Well, I wondered too. So the first place I looked was at the bottle of Vanilla Extract I had on the spice shelf in the kitchen cabinet. Well, that shed a bit of light on the subject, it said 'contains alcohol' and that of course reminded me of Mother Tucker, a far flung kith and kin who was married to cousin Tommy, who was well known for his addiction to the spice racks of the family members he visited (Now I know). At least that got me thinkin' 'why the alcohol?', so I went to my trusty tech top, the PC of course, and typed in 'Vanilla', wow, what a wondrous world of wisdom that thing is. Immediately I was whisked into the cyber world of such places as Madagascar, Tahiti, Malaysia, and yes even Mexico and the Islands. And, my clicks and links brought me to the site of the Vanilla Queen.
At that site you will learn the real truth about vanilla. And, that it has a remarkable story, filled with history, intrigue, passion, and piracy. It flavors your foods, beverages, and even your favorite chocolate candy. It is the secret ingredient that makes a lot of medicines go down more easily. It's in most bottles of perfume, the rubber tires on the family car, and even in house paint. Haven't even thought about that, have you?
Like letting the genie out of the bottle, I'm letting the secrets out of the bottle of vanilla and into your senses. I think you'll be amazed. For even more information on vanilla than you find here. I suggest that you read:
Vanilla: The cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor & Fragrance
the only definitive book on the subject! I can guarantee that you'll never take your little brown bottle of extract for granted again. Patricia Rain, the 'Vanilla Queen' is an author and has written many books on this subject as well as others.
Here is her site where you can read about her and Vanilla.
And, you can even buy a supply of Vanilla from exotic places of the world, right on the site.
Also at her site you will find some familiar facts about vanilla. But what other facts are there? If you aren't sure, then you are not alone. Vanilla has remained mysterious and elusive. Yet it is a flavor and fragrance that's an ingredient in more things than you can imagine. It's one of life's little pleasures that we take for granted and rarely think about except when we need it for a recipe and it is nowhere in the kitchen to be found. Time out, quick trip to the store!
With permission I will add here some biographical facts about the Vanilla Queen and I even came up with a vanilla recipe to put into this Cookin' With Leo column.
Patricia Rain is an author, educator, culinary historian, and owner of the Vanilla.COMpany
a socially conscious, product-driven information and education site dedicated to the promotion of pure, natural vanilla, and the support of vanilla farmers worldwide.
The Vanilla Cookbook (Celestial Arts, 1986) established her as an authority on this exotic rainforest product. She has continued to do research on the uses of vanilla in a diverse variety of applications: as a flavor in both sweet and savory foods; as a medicinal; as a fragrance; and in aromatherapy.
The Vanilla Chef (Vanilla Queen Press, 2002) is a companion book to the Internet business.
Vanilla: The Cultural History of The World's Favorite Flavor and Fragrance (Tarcher, a member of the US Penguin Group, 2004) is her most recent book.
She has given many Major Food Industry Presentations, written articles, books and given interviews
Ms. Rain does culinary presentations for food professionals, cooking schools, trade shows, food fairs, and private groups, and is a regular radio and TV guest. She has written articles for mainstream and trade publications, chapters for academic books, and has been the primary interview source for both mainstream and academic materials.
Additional food-related books by Patricia Rain include The Artichoke Cookbook and Pea Soup Andersen's Scandinavian-American Cookbook, published by Celestial Arts.
She has assisted a diverse group of clients, including USAID, The Secretary of Agriculture and Fisheries, Vera Cruz, Mexico; El Consejo Veracruzano de la Vainilla, Vera Cruz, Mexico; Union Agricola Regional de Productores de Vainilla, Papantla, Vera Cruz; Turin Chocolates, Mexico City; PULSAR, Mexico City; The National Wildlife Federation children's magazine, Ranger Rick; Tahitian Import/Export,Inc.; and Draeger's Markets.
In addition to running a wholesale and retail business, Ms. Rain is the voice for small vanilla farmers worldwide, providing information on growing, curing, packaging and shipping vanilla to the world market, providing a forum for networking and representing their needs and concerns through writing and speaking engagements. Additionally, The Vanilla.COMpany is actively working with individuals and groups in vanilla-growing countries to establish projects and to get medical and other needed supplies into rural areas.
People ask her all the time how, and why, she became the Vanilla Queen. There's a simple answer and there's a longer story. The simple answer: "I've always loved vanilla and, as I have an inquiring mind, I wanted to learn everything possible about vanilla".
What began as curiosity eventually led to Ms. Rain devoting her life to the promotion of this incredible tropical treasure and the people who grow it. And for that, she became known as the Vanilla Queen
Her journey started in 1985 when she wrote The Vanilla Cookbook. The idea for that project was conceived when a friend gave her a Wall Street Journal article about King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga and the dilemma of a vanilla crop harvested too early. Hank Kaestner, the purchasing agent of spices and flavors for McCormick & Company at that time, was looking for new sources of vanilla.
Vava'u, the northern island of Tonga had the perfect growing conditions, but the workers were accustomed to growing and drying sisal and coconut meat -- fast crops with quick pay. As vanilla takes nearly a year to mature, they grew restless and harvested it too early, which made it nearly worthless. Hank struck a bargain. He went to the King and asked him to issue a royal decree forbidding the harvest till the beans turned gold at the tips. In exchange, McCormick would buy the entire crop. He did, they did, and Tonga started producing lovely vanilla.
The story intrigued Ms Rain and she called Hank Kaestner the next day. After providing her with one amazing fact after another, she was so intrigued that she asked if any books had been written on vanilla. He said there were none, and that perhaps such a book might have merit. So she wrote it, but unfortunately circumstances at the time didn't allow for the luxury of on-site research in tropical Mexico or in any of the other exotic locations where vanilla is now grown. Instead, she interviewed the vanilla traders and extracts manufacturers and created the book largely around their experiences and expertise.
The Vanilla Cookbook came out in 1986. No one had ever combined vanilla's history, botany, lore and food into one book, so it created interest in the culinary and academic worlds. Ms Rain spoke at conferences and culinary programs and promoted vanilla at special events. Then, In 1992, she was invited to speak at the quincentennial celebration of foods of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico. Her opportunity had finally arrived.
Much more on Vanilla can be found at the site, be prepared to spend several hours at least or maybe a few days to get the full gist of incredible information to be found there. And now for a recipe using Vanilla. Everybody should love this.
I'll call it Grilled Pineapple:
Get one fresh pineapple. Peel it and slice it into about ¼ to ½ in rings. Squeeze the juice of one lime over the slices, Cover and set aside while you do this.
Now use one cup of Myers Dark Rum, mix with one cup of brown sugar, warm this but do not heat it. You only want to melt the sugar and dissolve it into the rum. Add ½ oz Pure Vanilla Extract; don't use Vanilla Flavor, not good enough for this. Add the pineapple slices into the rum mix, and let them cover and soak well. Now you can move to the grill where you are doing some pork chops or ham slices or for that matter just good ol' hamburger, place a slice of the prepared pineapple on each piece of meat and finish grilling
Don't tell me you won't like this, See ya'll next time.