Years ago my sister Maggie and I, with our then-husbands, owned a beachside hotel in Cornwall which had a sweetie shop. In this shop we sold 20 flavours of ice cream which was pretty gobsmacking in the 1980s.
Although they were all popular, we generally found that ladies favoured Maple Walnut whilst gentlemen preferred the manly taste of Rum and Raisin. Children wanted Mint-Choc-Chip and teenagers, if you could get them to say anything, mumbled 'umm – Strawberry'. Senior citizens usually wanted 'plain', by which they meant vanilla, and told us their preference in tones of irritated amazement as if it was obvious that ice cream should be 'plain vanilla'. What was the world coming to?
The thing is; vanilla isn't plain at all, is it? A vanilla pod is the seed pod from a vanilla orchid, mainly vanilla planifolia from Central America, Mexico and Madagascar but occasionally other strains from Tahiti and Hawaii. It is, therefore, very exotic and sexy and is also delicious.
It is exciting, therefore, that Taylor and Colledge “One of the most trusted names in vanilla for over a century.” sell a range of wonderful vanilla products and it is even more exciting that they have sent me some to try. Lucky, lucky me!
Their range, which is available from Waitrose, Ocado and Amazon comprises
Vanilla Beans – lovely, flexible pods the way they should be; dark, slightly oily looking, fragrant and a good length (apparently 6” is perfect! – I’m saying nothing).
There are two important things you need to know about using vanilla beans/pods:
1. The beans contain thousands of tiny black seeds which can easily be scraped from the pod by slitting it lengthwise carefully with a sharp knife and scraping the seeds into whatever you are making.
2. If you use beans to flavour custard or cream or similar, whether or not you have scraped out the seeds, Do Not Throw It Away - rinse, and set aside somewhere airy till completely dry then store in a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar if you are that sort of a person or in a bottle of rum or brandy if you are that sort of person.
If you make vanilla sugar then you can use it to make Vanilla Toast which is like Cinnamon Toast only even better! Speaking of vanilla sugar ...
Vanilla Dusting Sugar – this is, of course, the perfect sprinkly finish for cream cakes, pancakes, French Toast and so on. Taylor and Colledge’s dusting sugar has a slight golden hue because of the vanilla crushed into it.
It is also good mixed into soft butter and used to make Vanilla Toast (like Cinnamon Toast only even better!).
Vanilla Extract – now this is very important, so concentrate - no pun intended!. Vanilla essence is almost always not vanilla extract; it is a chemically produced replica. I say “almost always” because occasionally it is a very intense concentrated extract. Anyway don’t risk it – use extract. I like to add a drip or two to my coffee, which I take black, whether or not I've already added a nip of Brandy!
Vanilla Paste – this is a useful product if you want vanilla seed specks in your dish, it is a kind of thick and syrupy extract. I am quite prone to making ice cream (and have even written a book on the matter here ~ Luscious Ice Creams without a Machine) and to get the lovely heady flavour I usually steep a vanilla pod in cream before proceeding with the recipe. Vanilla paste does the job faster, better and adds the little black specks of seeds which prove the dish is authentic!
… and a Really Wonderful Thing!!!
Vanilla Grinder – what a brilliant idea. I am still playing with this but it is fab on soft fruits, the froth on cappuccino or hot chocolate, ice cream, trifles, mousse, the list is a long one.
Vanilla does not come cheap in fact it is the second most expensive spice in the world (saffron being the first) but a little goes a long way and it so enhances a dish that I think you will consider it money well spent if you add some to your store cupboard – it sure can help a leftover out!