Everyone is familiar with the excitement of opening beautifully wrapped presents during the holidays. What lovely treasure might be discovered in the box? Maybe a beautiful jewel of a gift, sometimes a dud. We are fortunate to experience that anticipation year round, here at The Spice House, when we open our bulk packages of spices, that come to us from exotic ports all over the Earth. Some hand picked cloves come to us in beautiful wooden crates, stamped with a colored ink design of a ship sailing the ocean. The wooden box is necessary to keep the hand select cloves in perfect condition. Cinnamon from Ceylon comes in five foot tall bundles, the long quills are carefully wrapped and then burlap is sewn around them. Saffron comes from Spain in decorated tins, depicting the harvesting of saffron. Cardamom comes from India, in a box stamped with an elephant, and even through the box, the heady aroma emerges. My favorite box to open is those filled with vanilla bean. We just received a shipment this last week.
In our dedication to quality, we always hope we are going to be opening a box of prime vanilla beans, moist but not wet, we request prime beans with a length of 17 centimeters, and hope for vanilllin content of 1.7 to 1.85%. What we get is not always w hat we request. Madagascar is the main exporter of vanilla beans, but this island is quite often the unfortunate recipient of many cyclones each year. A few years back, over 17 cylones hit this island and price of vanilla trippled over an 18 month period. Hence it is always with a bit of trepedition that we open these boxes, that are priced dearly into the thousands of dollars. I am very happy to say that the boxes we received this past week (one is pictured above) is a fine example of what quality beans should be. So, those of you baking with vanilla beans this holiday season, please know we have some really lovely beans in the house right now. A simple secret that will make any holiday cookie extra special – cut a vanilla bean open and scrape out the seeds into your cookie dough – you will be delighted at the results.