I had been dying to see these vanilla beans when I went to Kerala for my short vacation. My parents after their retirement had turned to growing vanilla plants among others and everytime they would mention vanilla I couldnt wait to see these beauties. When I was in India, vanilla was not popular as a cash crop. But now it is very common in Kerala. I am not sure if it common in other states. Rubber plantations which are very common in Kerala are soon being replaced by vanilla plantations. The warm and humid climatic conditions have really adopted the plant to its soil.
My first introduction to vanilla was the vanilla essence which we used to add religiously to every cake we made as kids. I remember when I enthusiastically drank a teaspoon of vanilla extract thinking it would taste as great as it smelled. Boy, was I wrong. But that didn’t end my love affair with vanilla.
A closer view of the leaves
I was quite surprised when I stepped outside to see the sorroundings after I got home. It was green all around and there were small patches of ginger,numerous okra plants, long beans called ‘achinga’ in Malayalam and so many things to see and enjoy. It was just wonderful to just walk among all the veggies and to see mom pick them up fresh and cook them for me. They had changed the whole place to a green paradise. They have gone at it with all their heart and they even have a pit where they make their own compost using earthworms. I didn’t go near the pit although now I wish I had observed more.
The vanilla plants are climbers on a supporting tree. The leaves are so beautiful to look at with the bright green and waxy texture. The beans look like french beans but more slender and rounder. The method to process the vanilla bean is long. First of all, the flowers have to pollinated by hand .The beans once they areripe are plucked, added to boiling water. The fragrance of the vanilla beans is just so great and it permeates the whole kitchen. Then they are taken out allowed to dry in the sun for few hours every day. And finally when the green beans turn blackishbrown they are ready and I believe it takes almost 15 to 20 days.
The orchid on its supporting framework
I also heard stories about vanilla plants and beans being stolen from peoples land during the times when vanilla was fetching big prices.
These are the vanilla beans stored carefully. I used a few of them already in some of my recipes. I feel really rich having these in my store:). I used them in the pistachio cake .