Sometime back, Marilyn Riedman, of McMinnville, Ore., called me about a fruitcake cookie recipe that I had featured. Then, this past April, Marilyn surprised me by sending a plastic bag of vanilla beans and information about using them.
Anybody who cooks knows about vanilla. It provides flavor in lots of recipes. (I’m told that years ago, ladies used a dab of vanilla as perfume, too.) Anyway, I’m guessing that most cooks use imitation vanilla, which costs less, instead of pure vanilla extract.
Liquid vanilla is extracted from the vanilla bean produced from a white orchid plant. The dark brown vanilla bean is long and slender with a hook at one end. The vanilla beans that Marilyn sent me are about 6 to 7 inches in length, but I know they can be longer — perhaps 9 inches — because I sent for one, advertised in some teaching ad, some years ago. The pods are filled with tiny seeds.
Vanilla beans are grown in Tahiti, Madagascar and Mexico. Each locale has its distinctive bean. According to information on vanilla beans that Marilyn sent, from www.finecooking.com, some vanilla beans are more flavorful than others. It’s the climate that makes the difference.
Why would cooks choose to use the vanilla bean instead of buying the liquid vanilla at the grocery store? It has to do with flavor, and there are different ways to use the bean. For example, you can remove the seeds and use them in your recipes, like custards. (I’m pretty sure they’re used in ice cream, too. Remember having ice cream with little speckles in it?) The entire pod can be used, too. Marilyn said that she stores some pods in sugar and has vanilla-flavored sugar. (I’m going to try that with some of the beans she sent me.)
Marilyn told me that the first vanilla bean she got came in a bottle with instructions. Now she orders vanilla beans in bulk (100 beans), and the ones she sent me came from Madagascar. Marilyn has offered to share information with other readers about ordering the vanilla beans in bulk. If you are interested, call me at 970-824-8809, and I’ll put you in touch with Marilyn.
Special thanks to Marilyn for the vanilla beans and information for using them!
This week’s column ends with a recipe for making “Vanilla Cream Pudding” from scratch. This recipe calls for vanilla from the grocery store, but I’m sure you could use vanilla bean seeds instead. I think this recipe originally came from an old Betty Crocker cookbook that I’ve had since before I was married.
To make “Vanilla Cream Pudding,” you will need: 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 cups milk, 2 egg yolks (slightly beaten), 2 teaspoons butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan. Gradually stir in the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Gradually stir at least one half of the hot mixture into the egg yolks. Then blend into the hot mixture in the saucepan. (This is done to prevent lumps.)
Boil for one minute more, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and blend in the butter and vanilla. Pour into dessert dishes and serve warm or cool with cream or whipped cream. (I think you could use this mixture for a cream pie, too.)
If you have questions about the vanilla beans or if you have a recipe you’d like to share with readers, call me at 970-824-8809 or write to me at PO Box 415, Craig, CO 81626.