Once upon a time I was asked if I was vanilla or choc-mint (or some similarly exciting flavour). I was laughed at when I responded with vanilla. Vanilla is boring. Ordinary. Dull, even. I didn’t care though. And I still don’t. I like vanilla!
Luckily for me, vanilla seems to have had a bit of a renaissance… it’s quite a glamorous thing these days. Gone are the days when posh ice cream people made plain old vanilla flavour. Now it’s ‘Madagascan Vanilla’ or ‘With Real Vanilla Pod’, etcetera. And the vast array of vanilla scented candles – love those. Not such a great fan of those pesky room scenters that you plug in and they squirt out a spray of whiff if anyone comes within a one mile radius of it. (They make me think of a dog marking its territory. Eeww, gross. Sorry.)
It would seem that the ugly duckling has become a swan. I wonder what caused this rise in the flavour ranks, this caste change? Is it just that Jamie Oliver used whole vanilla pods in his recipes, making us everyday folk long to make this exotic bean one of our kitchen staples? Honestly, I’d never seen a vanilla pod until a few years ago. In fact, I had not really ever given any thought to the the origin of that bottle of vanilla essence in amongst my baking paraphernalia. But now, thanks to Carte D’Or, I know that vanilla pods must be from Madagascar, and that I shouldn’t complain that has my ice cream has crushed weevils in it – no, those little brown speckles are actually authentic vanilla seeds.
And I have gone with the flow (that expression doesn’t work so well in past tense). I have bought vanilla pods, I have made cheesecake and ice cream using real vanilla pods. I have scooped out the aforementioned brown speckles from inside the pod and used them lovingly in my food. I have felt that, like Jamie, I am at one with the earth for using this wonderful piece of nature instead of using some sourceless brown, probably synthetic, liquid flavouring.
But, my goodness me, that sourceless brown, probably synthetic, liquid flavouring is a whole lot cheaper than the real pod. Being at one with the earth is an expensive business!
So, in the spirit of repurposing (and justifying spending all that money on a wrinkly seed pod), I make the pods work hard… I pop the scraped out pods into a jar of sugar, and voila – vanilla sugar. It’s fantastic!
Try it if you haven’t already. It does mean that you will have a jar of sugar that looks like it has a dried stick insect inside it, but if you can deal with that, you will have the lovely fragrance of vanilla every time you open the jar, and a hint of that flavour in your cooking/coffee/whatever you’re using the sugar for. [Needless to say, I wouldn’t use it in my spag bols sauce.]
Btw: I feel I should clarify: I did not complain to Carte D’Or, nor any other ice cream manufacturer, about crushed weevils in my ice cream. I realised pretty quickly that the brown bits were meant to be there.
PS: In the summer I will be using lavendar flowers to make lavendar sugar too. Just leave a few flowers in a jar of sugar for a couple of days, remove them and make sure the jar/container seals properly.