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I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet

Veracruz: In the Land of the Vanilla Orchid

Written by Courtenay Dunk: www.spicelines.com 

 

I have come to Veracruz to glimpse the elusive vanilla orchid on the vine, to catch the rich scent of glossy beans curing in the sun, to breathe in the fragrance of the world’s finest vanilla in its Mexican birthplace. Everything up to this point has been a sort of lagniappe, as the Creoles say, a delicious extra. Such is the nature of obsession.

It is about 10:30 AM and as usual, the sun is brutally hot and the air thick with moisture. Norma Gaya is driving the three of us—Susana, Deborah and myself—down a rough dirt road so deeply rutted that we are thrown from side to side as we jounce along at just a few kilometers an hour. I notice that she has woven two vanilla beans in and out of the louvers of the air conditioning vents which are now wafting a faint scent towards us.

White Chocolate Custard with Raspberries

IMG_4742_Fotor

Courtesy of Chef and Blogger, David Lebovitz: www.davidlebovitz.com

So, here’s what David has to say about White Chocolate Custard with Raspberries: I serve these custards slightly warm, which softens the raspberries and releases their subtle, sweet perfume. Savor these with tiny, delicate silver spoons; something as dreamy and elegant as these quivering custards, with their creamy-smooth white chocolate demands to be relished in small, measured doses.

Fascinating Facts About Tea

All true teas come from Camellia sinensis, an evergreen plant that grows mainly in tropical and sub tropical climates. Some varieties can also be grown in marine climates and are cultivated as far north as Cornwall in Great Britain and Seattle in the United States. 

Camellia sinensis originated in northern Asia, specifically around the region of northeast India, north Burma, southwest China and Tibet. The plant was then introduced to more than 52 countries from this point of origin.

China has the earliest records of tea consumption, with records dating back to the 10th century B.C. Yunnan Province in China is considered the birthplace of tea, the first region where humans figured out that eating tea leaves or brewing a cup could be enjoyable. Yunnan Province is also considered home to the world’s oldest cultivated tea tree, some 3,200 years old.

Your Daily Grind

You buy sustainably grown coffee and tea whenever possible.  Fantastic!  The farmers thank you for your support.

However, did you know that you can take your eco-sensibilities another step by turning your daily grind (or cuppa tea) into a great compost, fertilizer or special food for acid-loving plants?

The caffeine in coffee grounds is an excellent source of nitrogen.  Nitrogen gets “fixed” by bacteria in soil, creating a high quality compost for your plants.  Add it to your compost pile.  Coffee filters and tea bags break down rapidly during composting so throw them in too!

You can also sprinkle a little around

Legend of Vanilla

In early times, the Land of the Resplendent Moon, was the kingdom of Totonocopan, ruled by the Totonacas. The palm-studded sands, verdant valleys, and shimmering hills and sierra in what is now known as Vera Cruz, were overseen from several locations. One was Papantla, place of the papan birds. Another was El Tajin, the thunder bolt, an ancient Huaxtecan city built in honor of the deity, Hurakan, god of the storms. It was here in this dense, tropical rainforest that vanilla was first cultivated and cured. It was here that the fragrance from the vanilla was so exquisite, that Papantla later became known as, The City That Perfumed the World.

There was a time, however, before the reign of Tenitzli III, when there was no vanilla. In this city famous for its artists and sculptors, Tenitzli and his wife were blessed with a daughter so incredibly beautiful that they couldn’t bear the thought of giving her away in marriage to a mere mortal. They dedicated her life as a pious offering to the cult of Tonoacayohua, the goddess of crops and subsistence, a powerful goddess who affected their very life and survival. Their daughter, Princess Tzacopontziza (Morning Star), devoted her time at the temple, bringing offerings of foods and flowers to the goddess.

How to Select and Use Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans – those pricey, fragrant, dried seedpods that offer no easy clue about how to use them – are native to tropical America. There are over 150 varieties of vanilla orchids (there are 27 varieties in South Florida alone), but only two species are used commercially to flavor and fragrance foods and beverages– Bourbon and Tahitian.

Bourbon vanilla beans

Bourbon vanilla beans are botanically known as Vanilla planifolia or Vanilla fragrans and originally came from the Gulf Coast of Mexico. When grown in Mexico they’re called Mexican beans. On the other hand, beans from the same plant stock are called Bourbon vanilla beans if they grow in Madagascar, Indonesia, and many other regions. The big exception is the beans from Tahiti. Even though Tahitian vanilla is now considered its own species, the original plant stock also came from Mexico.

Fascinating Facts About Chocolate

Theobroma cacao, originally considered by the indigenous peoples of Mexico, Central and northern South America, as the food of the gods, is known to us as chocolate. It grows in tropical forested areas within 20 degrees latitude either side of the equator.  It originated along riverbanks in the Amazon basin in Northwestern Brazil.

There is major controversy about cacao’s origins in Mexico and Central America.  Whether it developed independently in the tropical forests of Mexico and Central America or was taken there by an indigenous Mesoamerican group is at the heart of the debate.  The current scientific belief is that cacao was taken from the forests in Northwestern South America and brought to Mesoamerica probably around 1500 years ago.  However, an equally plausible theory is

Chocolate’s Bittersweet Relationship With the Rainforest

By Matt Ford for CNN

  • Unsustainable cocoa farming could make chocolate increasingly expensive
  • Intensive farming in rainforests threatens habitat and long-term livelihoods
  • Hope for the future with partnerships between farmers and chocolate companies

(CNN)— “I think that in 20 years chocolate will be like caviar,” says John Mason, executive director and founder of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council (NCRC).”It will become so rare and so expensive that

Vanilla’s Magical Qualities

Much more than just an ingredient in baked goods, vanilla is a magical flavoring that can do wonders for most foods and beverages.  It’s also very useful in calming our minds and bodies and helping us to feel good.  Here are some thoughts and suggestions for making use of vanilla’s magic.   For instance, did you know that vanilla is…

an antacid? Add a few drops to pineapple, fruit salads, or sauces containing citrus to soften the sharpness and give it extra sweetening.  Put a little vanilla in tomato sauces to neutralize the acidity.

a lifter and enhancer? Add vanilla to give new “life” to flavorless seasonal fruits or other foods that need a flavor boost.  Did you know that chocolate by itself tastes “flat” which is why it usually contains vanilla?

History of Vanilla

Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family, the largest family of flowering plants in the world. It’s a tropical orchid, and there are more than 150 varieties of vanilla, though only two types – Bourbon and Tahitian — are used commercially.

Vanilla grows within the 20-degree band either side of the Equator and is native to the Americas. The vanilla you know best, Vanilla planifolia (also known as fragrans), traditionally grew wild on the Atlantic Gulf side of Mexico from Tampico around to the northeast tip of South America, and from Colima, Mexico to Ecuador on the Pacific side. It also grew throughout the Caribbean.

The Olmeca people on the Gulf Coast of Mexico were perhaps the first to use vanilla as a flavoring in beverages.  Before that, vanilla was used as a fragrance in temples and the flowers were placed inside of amulets to protect the wearer from the evil eye.

A Tour to Hawaii’s Vanilla Mill

Courtesy of Sonia R. Martinez, cubanwahine@hawaii.rr.com

You’re planning a trip to Hawaii’s Big Island and want to experience more than just the beaches, sun and surf.  How about a visit to a working vanilla plantation where you can learn firsthand all that goes into growing this beloved fruit of the orchid family?  Further, you can enjoy a delicious gourmet meal with vanilla as the key ingredient in each of the dishes made fresh in the Vanilla Mill Café at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company.

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