Monday, June 8, 2009

Whole Food: Ugandan Vanilla Beans

When you have friends who travel to Uganda each year you never know what they will bring home, especially if your friend is Mrs. Carney Farris. This past trip Carney came home with some wonderful treats for our whole food loving customers. Carney trekked through Soroti, Uganda to bring home the most amazing organic vanilla beans! Before the words left her mouth I was already dreaming of all the wonderful things I could do with these beans.

You see, I am a certifiable vanilla addict. I buy only the best vanilla and admit to throwing out imitation vanilla while visiting my mother. I learned long ago the difference quality vanilla can make in cooking and baking. With a cow on the farm and raw milk in abundance I make creme brulee on a fairly regular basis and homemade ice cream is a staple in our home. I also prefer creme anglaise with my cobblers and pies and vanilla cream made from raw milk in my coffee. I put vanilla in my smoothies and it is indispensable in good panna cotta.

There was a time when the vanilla bean was only available to those lucky souls who reside in Mexico due to the fact that the vanilla pod producing orchids and the Melipona bee who did the pollinating were native to Mexico and the magically symbiotic relationship they had could not be reproduced artificially. The French were the first to attempt to grow the vanilla orchid outside Mexico but found that no insect in France could pollinate the flower. Thankfully a 12 year old slave named Edmond Albius invented a way to hand pollinate and the rest is history, delicious history.

The most famous vanilla is made from beans grown in Madagascar but many aficionados believe that Ugandan beans will outshine all other beans. Now you can try it for yourself by purchasing some from our farm shop!

Last night I pulled out my large bottle of vodka (I keep it around to add to my ice cream to keep it from freezer too soon in my ice cream maker - really!) and opened three beans to make my first batch of  homemade vanilla extract. Although I have been purchasing beans from very reputable sources I have never opened beans like these. They were fresh, not dried out and much longer than the usual beans, but what truly amazed me was the amount of seeds inside. The seeds were gummy and the pods were very pliable and smelled amazing.

Here is the most common recipe for making your own homemade vanilla extract.

1 quart vodka or rum
3 Ugandan vanilla beans

Open the beans to expose the seeds and place in a glass jar. Pour in alcohol and shake well. Place the jar in a dark place and shake the jar every couple of days for 8 weeks. I have been told that you can reuse the beans (only the best quality beans) once more.

Here is a great recipe for panna cotta from Williams Sonoma. I was served a similar panna cotta with a thin slice of hazelnut chocolate torte in Italy and it was perfect for a winter desert when no fresh berries are available.

Panna cotta, Italian for “cooked cream,” is a specialty of Italy’s Piedmont region, where these delicate creams have been made since medieval times. The dessert is often accompanied by fresh fruit, as in this recipe.

Organic Cooking with Whole Food: Panna Cotta

1 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup raw milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. homemade vanilla extract
Food coloring, as desired
2 cups mixed fresh berries, such as raspberries, blueberries and blackberries

In a medium bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and let stand for 2 minutes. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and sugar. Cook, stirring to dissolve the sugar, until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan. Slowly add the cream mixture to the gelatin mixture, stirring until smooth. Then add the vanilla and food coloring. Divide the mixture among four 4-oz. decorative molds or ramekins. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or as long as overnight. Just before serving, fill a small bowl with warm water, dip the molds into warm water (do not submerge fully), and run the tip of a knife around the edge to loosen the panna cotta. Invert each mold onto a dessert plate. Garnish with the berries and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

No comments:

Post a Comment