Last year, whilst shopping in an obscure spice shop in a local neighborhood of Cape Town, I got what I thought was a “mother lode” of vanilla — beautiful, plump, moist and amazingly fragrant beans from Madagascar, one of the premium sources of some of the world’s best vanilla bean. They seemed incredibly cheap, so I bought an entire case of glass vials each housing one glorious bean. I shared the bounty with bakers when I got home, and I still have several more vials in the pantry which I really should make use of sooner rather than later…
…and then THIS unexpected crop of beans was delivered to our home by friends who had recently taken a vacation in Lombok and Bali, Indonesia. It seems a trip to the market yielded beans for just under $20 a kilo! And this was just under 300 grams worth, far more than most home bakers can make use of in a year or two! My earlier instagram misquoted the price for this giant bundle at $2, instead it’s more like $5-6, but that’s still an incredible bargain. The beans are skinnier than the best beans in the world, and they smell vaguely of smoke (I think they were smoked to keep off molds or bugs) but the insides are utterly fresh, wonderfully fragrant and perfect for most everyday baking uses.
I actually first saw a blooming vanilla orchid in Bali some 18 years ago, while on holiday and touring the northern part of the island near a volcano. We stopped on a shaded street and growing wild by the road were the orchids and they actually had the immature beans attached. The blooms were stunning as well. It was amazing, but I didn’t see any dried vanilla beans for sale in markets then. It seems they are widely cultivated now and I am so grateful to the thoughtful friends who brought these beans back for us in their luggage. They are Canadians now almost fully converted to Pinoys considering the way they pack food items and make it through customs like a local would… Thanks R&M! :)