Posts Tagged ‘vanilla’

What’s Going On With Vanilla?

Monday, July 24th, 2017
Fille Vanille

Vanilla Beans Being Processed In Madagascar

Having built a decent line in Fairtrade organic vanilla, we recently have had to stop selling it to trade because of supply issues.  At the same time, we’ve been asked by many new customers for vanilla or Fairtrade vanilla.  Everyone’s scrabbling around for a very limited supply of real vanilla, and also wanting a cheaper price where there’s none to be had – the market really has no supply and the prices are over £500/kg if you can find it.

But why is Steenbergs only selling it retail and not to wholesale customers?

In short, it’s because we’ve made almost nothing on vanilla over the last few years, vainly hoping that supply and pricing issues would ease through time.  However, because of recent cyclones and changes to vanilla processing in Madagascar, prices have remained too high for us to finance anymore.  So when we were asked to commit £250,000 for what used to cost £50,000, we politely decided now was the time to stop selling vanilla on a general scale.

Many reasons have been given for why the pricing is so high.  But it really is a simple economic matter of supply and demand – bad weather and poor processing practices have materially reduced the quantity of vanilla from the world’s largest producer (Madagascar) without any material reduction in demand.

It’s become a real issue in the industry, meaning that very little is available in the market.  And with retailers unwilling to move prices, it became a mug’s game to continue subsidising the prices.

But the real story is more nuanced and has its root cause in the introduction of free markets into the vanilla sector in the 1990s, and the rise of neoliberalisim and the Washington Consensus.  It has taken 20 years to unravel but the end result will be increased poverty within Madagascar, as well as fewer natural vanilla ice cream products on the shelves of high street retailers.

For those interested in the longer view, here’s my timeline:

Where The Story Begins: 1995 – 2000

Vanilla Planters Walking Along Track

Vanilla Planters Walking Along Track

The seeds of the vanilla story can be found in 1995.  Before then, the vanilla market was a fixed monopoly – the Madagascan Government controlled quality, harvesting and pricing, which it negotiated with the major exporters and producers each year in Paris.  This ensured vanilla beans were harvested at strict times, were processed at Government curing centres and that prices were kept in a tight $70 – $90/kg.

But the rise of neoliberal economics and the Washington Consensus put paid to this,  Following advice from the EU and the World Bank, Madagascar dropped the carefully controlled, planned vanilla economy and let rip with free market economics.  Immediately, the price of vanilla plunged.  Next, the EU unravelled the state-controlled curing system and encouraged farmers to cure their own beans to earn more cash for themselves.  While prices continued to remain low, quality also suffered.

Allied to this, Madagascan politics were tricky to say the least, with the Madagascan Government suffering many years of weak government, governance and political instability.

The Start Of Fairtrade Vanilla: 2005 – 2013

When we started out in 2004, there had been three years of failed crops in Madagascar, which supplies around 85% of global supply.  The price of vanilla rocketed to a high of $600 (2005).  Small-scale farmers around the world wanted to cash in and took out bank loans to plant vanilla vines – vanilla really is a real small-scale artisan crop.

But by 2006, the Madagascan crop had succeeded, together with additional supply from new regions, and the price imploded, crashing to $50 (2005/6), then further down to $25 (2006-8).  Financial disaster ensued for the many farmers that had borrowed against the higher prices.

In stepped Fairtrade.  This was a classic Fairtrade scenario – to protect relatively unsophisticated farmers, who grow cash crops in the Global South for the Global North, from the harshest impacts of free markets, and the effects of global commodity and financial markets.  Fairtrade vanilla supply chains were developed in Madagascar and India.

The Vanilla Tightens: 2013 – 2017

However, the story did not end there.

In 2013/4, real vanilla began to increase in popularity as a premium addition to many products, with consumer interest in purity – organicFairtradeGMO-free becoming important.  With increased demand, prices for vanilla began to move from $20/kg to $55-65/kg.  At the same time, farmers started storing their vanilla in vacuum packs.  After several poor harvests, prices rocket to $80/kg from $30/kg for green beans by the end of the year, with cured vanilla at $240/kg.

In 2017, when the market was expecting a better harvest, disaster struck with the devastating cyclone – Enawo – bringing winds of up to 270 km/hour.  It began on 7 March striking land between Antalaha and Sambava, then forked to Maroansetra and Mananara, before crossing the centre of Madagascar and leaving on the south of the island on 10 March.  It destroyed about 20% of vanilla plants in Madagascar, hitting the north-east and east coast of Madagascar the hardest.  Antalaha was affected the most, with 90% of the town, its infrastructure and crops destroyed.  Enawo’s impact has been that all the expected uplift in supply was decimated, so the harvest is expected to remain at 2016 levels at about 12,000 tonnes, equivalent to 1,400 tonnes of exportable vanilla beans (i.e. 8kg of green vanilla for 1kg cured vanilla) – this is insufficient for global demand.

The organic market is even tighter.  Effectively, there is no free stock in the supply chain, with speculators buying up anything they can find, drip feeding them into the market at very high prices.  Cured organic vanilla is at $545/kg and we expect it to be at these levels for at least another 18 months and there to be no meaningful reduction in prices until 2019-20.

With our forward contracts delivered and at these high prices, vanilla pods and vanilla extract has now become uneconomic and high risk.  Therefore, in May 2017, Steenbergs decided to reduce its position in the market and only fulfil internet orders, removing itself from the wholesale market.  Basically, the risks in the market became too great for a small business like Steenbergs.

Downside Risks – Disaster Looms in 2020?

It is our opinion that disaster looms ahead for vanilla with a market crash self-evident.

On the one hand, high prices are great news for farmers.  However, the short-term masks significant downside risks in the not too distant future:

  • Demand is contracting with end-users reformulating and/or switching to artificial alternatives.  Industrial vanillin is suitable for many applications where a velvety richness is needed, without any complexity of aroma or taste – e.g. for cheaper chocolate or soft drinks.  In the period 2000 – 2005, about one-quarter of demand fell away, although some returned more recently with demand for pure vanilla.
  • Supply is increasing with vanilla vines being replanted at a rate of 25%.  Vanilla orchids flower 3 – 4 years after being planted, with vanilla pods being harvested for the first time several months later.  This replanting will return production to higher levels than prior to 2010.

The convergence of reduced demand and increased supply will at some point cause prices to crash – perhaps in 2020.  When that happens, it will unfortunately be the small-scale farmers that suffer – as always.

Recipe For Fragrant Rose Rice Pudding or Rose Kheer

Friday, August 7th, 2015
Rose Rice Pudding With Raspberries

Rose Rice Pudding With Raspberries

I have recently finished reading “The Architect’s Apprentice” by Elif Shafak, starting while on our holidays in Portugal.  It is a lovely read about unrequited and so a forlorn love between a lowly architect’s apprentice and the Sultan’s daughter,  It’s slightly magical, but with a far fetched end that sees Jahan, the main character, living a very long life to stretch his influence across the centuries.  Based in Turkey, it is redolent with the smells of roses and rose water, e.g.

“Jahan tried to utter something to raise her spirits, but he could find no words that she would follow.  A while later a servant brought her a bowl of custard, flavoured with rosewater.  The sweet scent…”

It turned my thoughts to roses, so I made today a Rose Rice Pudding that we ate warm because outside it was raining again – summer where have you gone.  I then let it cool and made the leftovers into a Raspberry & Rose Kheer per the photo.

Rose Rice Pudding or Rose Kheer


1 litre / 1¾ pints / 4¼ cups full fat milk
100g / 3½oz / ½ cup pudding rice
50g / 1¾ oz / ¼ cup golden caster sugar
½tsp organic cinnamon powder
Pinch of sea salt
½ teaspoon of vanilla powder or a vanilla pod, slit lengthways
150ml / 5¼ fl oz / ½ cup double cream
½tsp organic rose blossom water
1tsp ground dried rose petals (optional)

How to make rose rice pudding

Put the pudding rice, caster sugar, organic cinnamon powder and salt into a heavy bottomed pan.  Give it a quick stir to mix it up a tad.

Add the milk and the vanilla pod, then bring to the boil.  When it starts to boil, reduce the heat and leave to simmer gently for 35 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

Add the double cream, rose water and rose petals, then cook for a further 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly until nice and it has thickened.

If you want to eat it warm, sprinkle some caster sugar over the top and either caramelise it with a blowtorch or under the grill.

For rose kheer or a nice cold rice pudding, leave to cool for around 30 minutes, then place into the fridge for at least an hour.  To make it into a Raspberry & Rose Kheer, I put some raspberries in the base of the glass and three delicately on the top.

Rose Kheer With Raspberries

Rose Kheer With Raspberries

Pretty Little Rich Cake

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

It was Sophie’s birthday the other day.  We went out en famille for a Chinese meal at Sweet Basil in Kirk Hammerton.  Sophie wanted a strawberry cake, so I felt like trying something a bit old-fashioned.  Before Bird and Dr Oetker independently came up with the idea of baking powder to put the fluff into your cakes through a bit of basic chemistry, cakes were made with more eggs and the air was physically put in through some hard grafted whisking.  Cakes were generally less light, but had a lot more body to them.  I also think that these old-fashioned cakes tend to soften over time rather than dry out as much as more modern cakes.

This little cake looks pretty, dressed in fluffy white cream and gorgeous pink strawberries, and is full of that extra rich taste from a profusion of eggs.  I like it much more than your typical sandwich type cake, and it is not much more complicated to make.

Strawberries & Cream Vanilla Cake


125g / 4½ oz / 1 cup organic plain flour
125g / 4½ oz / ½ cup organic caster sugar
4 medium free range eggs, at room temperature
1tsp organic Fairtrade vanilla extract
75g / 2¾ oz / ⅓ cups / ⅔ sticks butter, melted then cooled a bit
2tbsp strawberry jam/conserve
4-6 decent sized strawberries, quartered
125ml / ½ cup whipping cream
½-1tbsp vanilla sugar

How to make

Start by preparing two 20cm/9 inch round cake tins: lightly grease the tins, then line with base with some baking paper.

Preheat the oven to 180C/355F.

Sieve the plain flour then set it aside.

Add the caster sugar, eggs and vanilla extract into a heatproof bowl.  Boil a kettle of water and put into a pan, then reheat it until simmering.  Put the heatproof bowl with egg-sugar mix over the simmering water, using a hand-held electric whisk at the highest level for 5 minutes.  This will increase the volume to around three times the initial level and the colour to a creamy yellow colour.

Scoop about one-third of the sieved plain flour over the egg-sugar mixture, then using a big metal spoon fold the flour into the mixture.  Repeat for the remaining two thirds of plain flour.  Next drizzle the cooled liquid butter into the mix in thirds again, folding in carefully each time.  The key is do the minimal of folding to keep the air in the egg-sugar mixture as much as possible.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tins and then bake for 25 minutes.  Leave in the tins for a few minutes before turning out the baked tin, and allow it to cool down fully.

This cake is delicious on its own, but I wanted to make it into something a bit fancier for Sophie:

  • Firstly, I spooned some strawberry jam onto one of the cakes – not too much, but enough to stick the two cakes together.  Then I put the two cakes together.
  • Secondly, I whipped some cream with the vanilla sugar – pour the cream into a mixing bowl, then whisk until getting harder, when you should sprinkle over the caster sugar; whisk some more until the cream makes soft peaks.  Scoop and smooth over the top of the cake, then arrange the chopped strawberries in the whipped cream.
Strawberry & Cream Cake

Strawberry & Cream Cake

Enjoy on its own, or with a delicious cup of Earl Grey tea or First Flush Darjeeling.

Homemade Marshmallows

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

It is not very often that I rip out pages from cookery magazines for use at a later date, so it was a surprise when the other day I found some pages I had ripped from a copy of the magazine, Delicious, from some years back.  In it, I had obviously fallen for some beautiful photography of brightly coloured and divine looking marshmallows.

I love marshmallows.  They are one of those things that I know I should dislike but really love – another guilty secret is Haribo sweets, which we used to buy as a treat when we went to Munich to visit relatives back in the 1970s, but which are ubiquitous nowadays.  Many years ago I tried to make my own marshmallows but they came out as a truly gloopy mix – a cross between a sweet and jelly cubes.  So I liked the idea of creating something really fluffy and delicious.

This recipe really does work and the key is getting the fluffy, bubblegum stage in the middle just right.  Interestingly, after a week, they had the texture and flavour of shop-bought marshmallows, which just goes to show how different freshly made is from manufactured foods.

I reckon that you could make deliciously flavoured versions with orange extract or rose water (or better rose oil), or matcha.  The bittersweet of matcha tea against the sugar syrup of the marshmallow would go well, and the colour would be weirdly enticing.

Homemade Marshmallows

Homemade Marshmallows

Recipe for marshmallows

120ml /4¼ fl oz liquid, cool
23g / ¾ oz gelatine
440g /1lb caster sugar
160ml / 5½ fl oz golden syrup
115ml /4 fl oz warm water
Vegetable oil for greasing
Cornflour for dusting

Line a baking tray of rough dimensions that’s 2cm (½ inch) and 30cm by 20cm (12 inch x 8 inch).  You should use clingfilm for this that has been well oiled with the vegetable oil.

Pour the cool liquid into a mixing bowl, ideally the bowl for your mixer.  You can use this stage to get a good flavour into the marshmallows, for example we used citrus and berry smoothies.  You could use matcha tea or spice flavours (see notes later), but if you want to add cocoa powder or coffee or fruit liqueurs or spice extracts, these should be added later.  If you are adding flavours later, just use water at this stage.  Sprinkle over with the powdered gelatine.  Set aside to allow the gelatine to absorb the liquid; it may need a stir to ensure that any dry patches are fully dampened.

Put the caster sugar, golden syrup and warm water into a heavy bottomed pan, then over a medium heat dissolve the sugars to create a syrup.  At this stage, you should stir it gently to help with the creation of a sugar solution, brushing down any sugar crystals on the edge of the pan as these could burn later.

When dissolved, increase the heat and let the sugar syrup start to boil.  Let it boil pretty vigorously, but obviously without going over the top of the pan.  Do not stir, but check the temperature every so often.  When the temperature gets to 130C/266F, take off the heat and let cool for 1 – 2 minutes.  Do not let the temperature rise above 140C/284F, nor use below 130C/266F.

As it is cooling whisk the gelatine-liquid mix in a food mixer using a balloon whisk attachment.  Slowly drizzle the sugar syrup down the side into the mixing bowl; do not pour into the middle directly on to the whisk as this will crystallise out the sugar.  Whisk for some time to allow the mixture to cool down and to expand in size to an opaque bubblegum texture.  You can add flavours like coffee, chocolate, cocoa, fruit liqueurs or vanilla extract at this stage, or maybe rose oil or matcha tea.

Whisk Up Marshmallow Mixture To Bubblegum Texture

Whisk Up Marshmallow Mixture To Bubblegum Texture

Pour Marshmallow Mixture Into Tin Lined With Clingfilm

Pour Marshmallow Mixture Into Tin Lined With Clingfilm

Pour the mixture into the lined baking tray, then smooth over the top with an oiled knife or spatula.  Cover and leave to set for at least 2 hours by which time the top will be firm, but very sticky.

When set, dust a surface with some cornflour and turn the marshmallow on to this surface.  Gently remove the clingfilm, which will be pretty tightly stuck with the marshmallow.  Then with an oiled sharp knife cut into cubes and then dip into cornflour to counteract the stickiness.  Eat and enjoy.

As alternatives, you could use an infusion of mug of matcha tea or perhaps 1 cinnamon quill infused in boiling water for 15 minutes, then allowed to cool.  It is important to let the liquid for the gelatine be cool, so place in fridge to make sure of this.  Then for a colourful outside, you could grind some freeze dried fruits or berries in a coffee grinder, or you could use desiccated coconut.

It’s A Mad World, Sometimes

Monday, February 28th, 2011

We are developing a vanilla paste to complement Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract, rose water etc. 

However, today I was sent the Specification and Material Safety Data Sheet by the guys who are going to do “the making it into a paste bit” for us.  Within this, it stated that “If Ingested: Induce Vomiting”.  On thinking this a bit extreme for a product that is already sold for human consumption to the public in shops and restaurants around Europe and the USA, I queried this statement.  The response was simple that if you ingested too much then this might be bad for you and then you should induce vomiting. 

I suspect that eating/ drinking too much Divine Orange Chocolate or smoked salmon or Mrs Kirkham’s delicious Lancahsire cheese or Coca-Cola or even our teas and so on and so on might be bad for the health and one should then induce vomiting, if it has not already started of its own accord; so why not then put health warnings on all foodstuffs that you eat this at your own risk.

It is just another symptom of our form-filling world where it is more important to tick some boxes rather than engage the brain and really think things through, i.e. businesses and bureaucrats are becoming ever more interested in covering their legal backsides than actually adding any real value.  So I am now going to buy a product that I am being told might cause “nausea and dizziness” if ingested specifically to sell to the public to ingest, so now the risk has shifted from the manufacturer to me, so it is lucky that my shoulders are broad enough to take on a bit more theoretical business risk.

Blending Christmas Tea

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

It is that time of year when customers are after our Christmas tea which is made to my own special recipe. 

Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Christmas Tea

Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Christmas Tea

We use a high grown organic Fairtrade from the POABS biodynamic tea estates in Kerala in Southern India as the base.  This is a lovely clean drinking black tea, while at the same time being mild in flavour without any maltiness or meadowy flavours coming through; therefore it is a wonderful base tea.

Whole Fairtrade Spices Ready For Grinding

Whole Fairtrade Spices Ready For Grinding

I take organic Fairtrade cardamom, organic Fairtrade cinnamon quills and organic Fairtrade cloves from the Small Organic Farmers’ Association in the Kandy region of Sri Lanka.  I then get some organic Fairtrade vanilla pods from the warehouse and chop these to about 1 cm in size.  All of these are mixed together and then ground down to a 1 – 2mm chop.  By grinding the whole spices in small batches, I can ensure that the quality of flavours is fresh and strong and that I am happy with their quality.

These are added to the tea together with some organic orange peel granules.

Cracked Spices And Black Tea

Cracked Spices And Black Tea

I mix it all together by hand, transfer it into sacks and leave to infuse with these gorgeous spicy flavours for a couple of weeks before testing and releasing for packing.

Christmas Tea All Mixed Up

Christmas Tea All Mixed Up

No additional flavours are added, no chemicals; it’s just tea and spices, blended by hand in North Yorkshire by me.  The final tea is a gently spiced, homely and warming for these darker evenings.

Recipe For Rich Apple Cake

Friday, October 8th, 2010

The idea for this cake comes from the wonderful cook book “European Peasant Cookery” by Elisabeth Luard; it is her recipe for Apple Cake or Æblekage, which comes from Denmark.  “European Peasant Cookery” is one of those great cookbooks that is packed with recipes that will inspire you and has no pretty pictures to beguile you and get in the way of the cookery.

A Slice Of Rich Apple Cake

A Slice Of Rich Apple Cake

I have changed it quite a lot, switching self rasing flour for plain and increasing the number of eggs used, but the underlying concept remains the same – a rich, moist apple cake.  The result came out as a rich and fulsome apple cake that can be eaten hot or cold, as a cake or a pudding with custard or cream.  It is a delicious balance between the sweetness of the cake with the tart freshness of the cooking apples; it reminds me of Zwetschgendatschi, which is one of my favourite flavour memories buried deep in my soul from holidays spent in Bavaria around the Chiemsee.

Axel’s Apple Cake

500g / 1lb cooking apples, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
2 pinches of organic Fairtrade mixed spice
1tbsp Fairtrade caster sugar, or flavoured sugar like cinnamon or lemon sugar (if using cinnamon sugar, drop the mixed spice)
225g / 8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature and chopped into cubes
195g / 6¾ oz Fairtrade caster sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature and whisked gently
1 tsp natural vanilla extract
195g / 6¾ oz organic plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp sea salt
½ tsp organic Fairtrade cinnamon powder
75g / 2½ oz organic ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F.  Take a 23cm / 9 inch cake tin and lightly oil the tin, remove any excess oil, then line the base with baking paper.

Windfall Apples From The Garden

Windfall Apples From The Garden

Go pick your apples, peel and core them, then slice thinly.  Place in a bowl and sprinkle the lemon juice over them all, then sprinkle with the caster sugar and a couple of pinches of mixed spice.  Thoroughly mix it up to make sure all slices are nicely coated with sugar and spice.  Leave until later.

Grind the ground almonds in a food processor to make them finer – I know it sounds weird but they are usually just too coarse.  Put to the side for use later in the recipe.

Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and Steenbergs vanilla extract and whisk up fully.  Sieve together the flour, baking powder, sea salt and cinnamon powder.  Add the flour mix into the cake batter and throughly mix up, then add the ground almonds and mix into the batter.

Sugar And Butter Ready For Mixing

Sugar And Butter Ready For Mixing

Cream The Sugar And Butter

Cream The Sugar And Butter

Mix In The Eggs And Flour Mix

Mix In The Eggs And Flour Mix

Pour half the cake batter into the cake tin, then layer over half the apple slices.  Cover with rest of cake mixture and then layer rest of apple slices over the top of the cake. 

Layer The Apples On The Cake Batter

Layer The Apples On The Cake Batter

Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  At around 1 hour, sprinkle the top of the cake with 1 tablespoon of sugar and start looking and checking the cake to ensure you catch it just when it is cooked.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool in tin for about 10 minutes then turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Home Made Apple Cake

Home Made Apple Cake

Serve warm with custard or whipped cream, or cold as a cake with double cream or on its own.

Recipe For Pears In Rooibos With Vanilla And Saffron

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

One of the classics of British cuisine is to poach pears in red wine or syrup.  As a variation on this, I sometimes create a sweet spicy syrup to poach the pears in, then reduce these to a thick, sweet sauce.  Recently, however, I have been thinking about how to use teas and infusions in my cooking, as well as the impact of different liquids such as beer versus wine and even different beers, to add extra depth to the flavour of your food without bringing in too much extra complexity.

That’s a rather geeky way of saying the liquids you use in cooking can alter subtly the flavour of the meal and they are something we all tend to ignore when cooking, focusing on the big ingredients like the meat or the vegetables or the mix of spices, then just pouring in tap water or “red wine” when we should be screaming hard or soft water, bottled water, fizzy and which red wine, wine from where, as it makes a huge difference.

So as an experiment, I brewed up a large pot of Red Chai Tea, which I make with an organic rooibos tea from South Africa and my own flavour combination of spices.  I left this to steep for a bit then filtered out the sweet, orangey-red tea that is coloured like an amazing African sunset.  Next, you add a mix of ginger powder, saffron and Madagascan vanilla and a light muscovado sugar to the tea; in my usual recipe, I add lemon zest but not here as there is lemongrass in the chai spice mix.  This is the base flavour for the pears and the sweet sauce, which you then use to poach some pears.

At this time of the year, pears are deliciously ripe but you can use this recipe even on the most flavourless brick of a pear in mid winter and get some flavour into them and soften them up, so it is good for your five-a-day.  The result are perfectly soft and succulent sweet pears in a sweet sauce that has a richly luxuriant saffron-vanilla flavour.  Sometimes, I finish my normal versions of this recipe with a vanilla whipped cream, but that really is almost too decadent and I did not have any cream the other night.  Eating with a knife and fork, the knife just glides through the soft flesh of the pear and the taste is heavenly with the characteristic sweetness of the pears perfectly offset by the chocolately, creaminess of the vanilla.

It does take a bit of time to make, but not much effort.  And simple is often the best thing in life.

How To Make Pears In Rooibos With Vanilla And Saffron

4 pears (choose the nicest you can find, but they should still be hard)
500ml normally brewed rooibos tea or Red Chai tea
125g Fairtrade light muscovado sugar
1 organic Fairtrade vanilla pod
½ pinch organic saffron
¼ tsp organic Fairtrade ginger
125ml double or whipping cream (optional)
1 organic Fairtrade vanilla pod (optional)

Peel the pears leaving the stalk, then cut a small slice off the base of the pear to enable them to stand upright in the pan and on the plate.  Find a heavy bottomed pan that is tall enough to accomodate the full height of the pears with the pan lid over the top.  Leave the pears on a plate to the side for the moment.

In a family sized tea pot, brew the rooibos tea.  It is best to use loose leaf tea as the tea bag imparts a dusty, foisty flavour to the tea, but a teabag will do for convenience.  Brew as normal based on equivalent of 1 teaspoon per person so that is 4 heaped teaspoons into the pot, using freshly drawn water that has been brought to the boil, then steeped for 5 minutes; strain and pour into the pan.

Brew Your Rooibos Tea

Brew Your Rooibos Tea

Add the light muscovado sugar, saffron and ginger.  For the vanilla, slice this lengthways and scrape out the vanilla seeds into the rooibos tea, then place the whole bean into the liquid for good measure.

Place the pears upright into the pan, put the lid carefully over the pears slightly off the rim.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and poach for 45 minutes until the pears are perfectly soft; you may need to adjust the cooking time depending on the ripeness of the pears.  Take the pears out of the sauce, put on a plate and leave to cool fully.

Strain the sugar syrup to remove the saffron and any bits.  Return the pan to the hob and heat to a vigorous boil and reduce the syrup to about 150ml.  Leave the syrup to cool.

To make the vanilla cream: pour 125ml of cream into a bowl; slice a vanilla bean lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream; using an electric or hand whisk, whisk to a thick, whipped cream.  Place in fridge while the pears and sauce are cooling to allow the vanilla flavours to infuse the cream.

Poached Pears In Rooibos Tea, Vanilla And Saffron

Poached Pears In Rooibos Tea, Vanilla And Saffron

Place the pears onto individual plates and pour over some of the sauce.  Add a tablespoon of vanilla whipped cream on the side of each plate.

Vanilla – A Beautiful And Sensual Spice

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
Vanilla comes from the vanilla orchid, called Vanilla planifolia, which is native to Mexico, but is now indigenous in many tropical parts of the world, for example Madagascar and surrounding islands.  There is a second vanilla orchid called Vanilla tahitensis, which is native to Tahiti and Papua New Guinea, and has a slightly different flavour profile.  The vanilla orchid flower is a pretty, delicate light green colour.
Vanilla Orchid Flower

Vanilla Orchid Flower

In the wild, vanilla flowers are pollinated by the melipona bee, whereas outside of Mexico, it is pollinated by hand with a small wooden skewer to move the male pollen to the female stigma.  This process is sometimes called la marriage de vanille, or fécondation.
Fertilising The Vanilla Flowers

Fertilising The Vanilla Flowers

It is then a long careful process to tend the vines as they trail along little wires from post to post.  This tending period takes about 9 months.

Tending The Vanilla Vine

Tending The Vanilla Vine

Green Vanilla On The Vine

Green Vanilla On The Vine

After about 9 months, the green vanilla beans are picked and taken to the nearest vanilla processing centre.  At this stage, the vanilla beans looks like French or runner beans.  The first thing to do is to “kill” the beans, which basically denatures the enzymes that would simply make the vanilla rot, but allows the enzymes that result in the curing process to start.

Killing The Green Vanilla Beans

Killing The Green Vanilla Beans

The curing process then takes  several weeks before the raw green beans have turned a deep, dark brown. The pods are laid out on mats in the sun to heat up for the hoursduring the day, where the workers handle the beans and turn them over.  Late in the afternoon, the baking hot beans are collected and wrapped in blankets and straw mats, then placed into air-tight wooden containers to “sweat” overnight.

Collecting Vanilla Beans For Sweating

Collecting Vanilla Beans For Sweating

The head curer checks the progress of the curing every day and assesses when the time is right to stop this curing stage.

Checking On Curing Process In Karnataka In Southern India

Checking On Curing Process In Karnataka In Southern India

Quality Control On Curing Vanilla Beans In Madagascar

Quality Control On Curing Vanilla Beans In Madagascar

The next stage is the conditioning phase when the vanilla pods are held in storage for 3 months to let the flavours develop and run through.  During this conditioning stage, the beans are handled regularly, softening and shaping them – in the Madagascar, they roll the beans between their fingers and so resulting in a rounded shape, while in India, they tend to flatten them between their fingers giving a flatter, longer shape.

Madagascan Vanilla With Their Individual Markings

Madagascan Vanilla With Their Individual Markings

New Organic Vanilla From Tahiti

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

We’ve had a delivery of some gorgeous fecund organic vanilla from Tahiti.  It’s brilliant kit and it’s totally different from normal organic vanilla from Madagascar – firstly, it’s a different species of vanilla orchid, called Vanilla tahitensis as against the standard Vanilla planifolia; and secondly they insist on a higher moisture content than is standard for typical vanilla from India or Madagascar or Uganda so they look really juicy, moist and fat.  These Tahitian organic vanilla pods look so gorgeously bountiful and full of flavour.

The flavour of these Tahitian vanilla pods is full of smooth, luxurious and rich vanilla aromas and tastes, but they seem to have a more delicate flavour than standard Madagascan vanilla, while there is a hint of anise and loads of orchid floral delight coming through.

I love it as a great alternative to classic Bourbon organic vanilla pods.  These complement Steenbergs range of organic vanilla that includes Bourbon vanilla from Antsirabe Nord in Madagascar and premium vanilla beans from Eastern Congo.

For more on these go to Steenbergs web shop.