My daughter, Tricia, wanted to give a special thank you gift this Christmas to friends and neighbors who had helped her this past Spring when her baby, Ander, was born 8 weeks premature. These great, giving people were a wonderful blessing. They brought meals, did babysitting, and gave some much needed and appreciated baby gifts.
As a thank you/Christmas present, Tricia made some fantastic vanilla gift baskets. They included homemade vanilla (the link will take you to a tutorial on Tricia’s blog), vanilla salt (also on Tricia’s blog, but a different post from the homemade vanilla), vanilla sugar, vanilla marshmallows, macarons, and vanilla lollipops. The macarons were wonderful; actually they were perfect. Tricia got her recipe for them from a pastry chef friend, so she is not at liberty to share it, not even with me. I’m okay with that. I can happily eat Pink Peppermint and Vanilla macarons, one after the other, without knowing the recipe.
The basket that Tricia made for me included three different vanilla extracts: Mexican, Madagascan, and Ugandan. I can hardly wait for them to finish with the infusing process in mid January. In the meantime, I get to shake the bottles each day…and remove the cork from the bottles so that I can take a loooooong whiff of each type of vanilla. My favorite, so far, is the Ugandan vanilla.
Tricia inspired me so much with her vanilla-making adventures, that I ordered some vanilla beans for myself from Beanilla. Beanilla is having a sale on their Madagascar beans, 25 beans for $25.00 plus free shipping. Additionally, I ordered five precious Tahitian beans, for a sale price of $17.00. That’s a great price considering that Tahitian vanilla beans are about $5.00 for a single bean.
The price of vanilla beans reflects the time and effort needed to produce them. Vanilla bean orchids are hand pollinated, which must take place within 12 hours of the orchid opening. Otherwise, the flower dies without producing a vanilla bean. At just the right moment, each bean is harvested by hand and then cured for several months under very precise conditions. Vanilla beans are grown in Mexico, Madagascar, Uganda, India, Indonesia, Tahiti, Tonga, Hawaii, Fiji, China, and Papua New Guinea. Soil and climate impact the flavor of the beans, therefore vanilla beans vary in flavor and fragrance depending on where they are grown.
You may have noticed that I mentioned Vanilla Salt and you may be wondering how the salt is made and used. Tricia scraped the caviar from a vanilla bean and mixed it with sea salt. She then included a portion of the vanilla bean with the salt. I tasted the salt so that I could get an idea of its flavor; it was wonderful! Vanilla salt can be used with desserts and sweets that call for salt; as a finishing salt on seafood such as lobster or fish; on spring salads and green salads that incorporate fruits, and as a final touch on cookies, brownies, chocolate, and caramels.
The Vanilla Sugar was just as wonderful as imagination could make it. Maybe even more so because some “sugar lumps” formed due to the moisture content of the vanilla beans and vanilla bean caviar. I didn’t bother to break up the lumps; I ate ‘um. It was an appropriate use of natural resources.
The Vanilla Lollipops were absolute fun. The little flecks of vanilla bean seeds added to the fun. In my personal, private, biased opinion, vanilla lollipops are the ultimate in lollipops. I would definitely take the time and energy required to boil sugar.
For additional information on vanilla and vanilla beans, check out these links:
- The Vanilla Company: Frequently Asked Questions About Vanilla (This site provides a blog, recipes, a shop, and LOT of great information about vanilla!)
- Vanilla Garlic (blog by Garrett McCord): Know Your Vanilla-A Guide to Vanilla Varieties
- Beanilla: Vanilla- Frequently Asked Questions
For a great vanilla cookbook, I recommend “Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques” by Shauna Sever. It was the inspiration for Tricia’s vanilla gift baskets.