Cake Chat and more…
Cake Chat and more…
How does it really work? Not just the vanilla option….
From Mexico to Reunion Island…
This is a visit that I did with my parents when I was ten years old, I still remember it today. So, I really wanted my two daughters Alice 10 and Juliette 8 to experience this wonderful place as well: La “Coopérative Provanille de Bras-Panon”, a cooperative that processes the vanilla of the island, where a 120 local producers come to sell their crop. As soon as you arrive you are hit with the powerful aroma of vanilla.
I just had to share this wonderful tradition with you.
Vanilla came to Reunion Island in the 17th century from Mexico. At the time, It was used as a decorative plant in the gardens of the rich and powerful until a 12 year old boy called Edmond Albius discovered how to pollenate the plant and what we now called “La Vanille Bourbon” was born.
Edmond was a slave, and one day he got so cross with his master that he crushed all the flowers of the vanilla vine. A few weeks later, he discovered that some of the flowers that he had crushed had developped into vanilla pods. This is how manual pollenation started. Edmond was made free in 1847 but was never recognised for his discovery during his lifetime, he actually died in poverty. A very ironic and unfortunate ending when a kilo of vanilla today can cost up to 3000 euros!
From a vine to a vanilla bean…
Vanilla starts as a vine that climbs on the “vacoa” and “chandelle” trees. After fours years, the vine starts flowering and produces a beautiful orchid (the only orchid in the world that produces a fruit). In Mexico, the flowers are naturally pollenated by the Mexican bee, but in Reunion this bee can’t survive, so pollenation has to be done manually.
When the flowers come out, farmers have to go very quickly to pollenate them as the flower lasts only one morning. One farmer can apparently pollenate 2000 flowers a day, the person in charge of this very skillful job is called “la marieuse” (the matchmaker). It is a very important process, if pollenation is not done properly the fruit will not grow. After pollenation it takes a month for the vanilla to come out. It looks like a fat runner bean. It will take another nine months for the bean to be ready to be harvested. At this point, farmers take their crops to the cooperative where the lovely scented vanilla that we find in our shops will be processed.
From a bean to a vanilla pod…
When the vanilla arrives at the cooperative, each pod is carefully checked for quality and maturity. A good pod has to have a yellow tip or the pods will not be processed. The pods are soaked into a 65°C water for three minutes. They are then put into wooden containers and covered with blankets, and will remain in those containers overnight. It is at this point that the pod takes the brown colour that we know. The vanilla is then stored onto wooden racks. The pods are dried outside 3 hours a day for a week. After that the pods remain onto their wooden racks inside for another month. They are then individually checked by hand to see if they’re dry. Skilled workers can feel which pods are properly dried by rolling the pods between their fingers. Once dried, they are stored into wooden boxes for two years before being sold. Special paper is used to ensure that the pods do not contact the wood or enzymes in the wood will destroy the vanilla. One point to bear in mind is also that during these two years, the wooden boxes will be emptied and checked monthly by hand, to make sure that the vanilla is not mouldy. One mouldy vanilla pod is enough to contaminate an entire container.
This is the basic process. Subtle changes allow different flavours and aromas to be produced. The highest quality vanilla will have needle like crystallised “suc” on its surface. These pods are sorted by the top quality restaurants in the world.
Bear it in mind next time you buy a vanilla pod it’s pricy for a reason. It takes two to three years from the vine to the pod for the vanilla to release its unique aroma………….
Tarte aux goyaviers
The goyavier is a tiny red fruit very popular in Reunion. It grows in the mountains of the island in June, July and August. Here we call it “la cerise créole” (creole cherry), because of its aspect but it doesn’t taste like cherry at all. It is actually quite sharp, that’s why I wanted to try it in a tart. Here people make jam and flavour their rum with it. You won’t find it in England but you can use other berries.
1 sweet shortcrust pastry for 24cm tin at least
120g light brown sugar/120g ground pistachio (or ground almond, or hazelnut)/ 2tbs flour/120g unsalted butter softened at room temperature/2 eggs/2tbs rum/250g goyaviers (in England you can use cherries instead or even blackberries).
Once you’ve layered your pastry in your tart tin, the recipe is dead easy (try to roll out your pastry as thinly as possible as you need to cook it with the filling).
Set your oven to 200°c. For the filling, weigh all the ingredients and put them all in a bowl and mix to a smooth paste. Then pour this mixture in your tin and spread evenly with a spoon. Then, put your fruits on top and cook for 30 to 40 mns until golden brown on top.
You can serve this tart warm or cold with cream or a light custard.
Tip: add some rum to your cream or custard.
Destination: Reunion Island
Although Gourmandises is entirely dedicated to French Patisserie, my blog will be a mix of sweet and savoury dishes, here I really want to share my passion for food in general, not just patisserie. Of course, I will keep you up to date with my adventures at Gourmandises.
What a better way to start with a journey through the food of my childwood, back to my roots, back to the flavours and ingredients I was brought up with.
Over the next few weeks my blog is taking you to Reunion Island with its colourful and wonderful flavours.
Reunion island is situated near Mauritius and Mayotte; they are part of the “Mascareigne archipelago” and are known in the area as the sisters islands, “Les îles soeurs”. Reunion is a French colony and therefore trades in Euro.
The food is a fusion of French, Creole, Indian and Chinese. This heritage comes from the colonisation. At the time, the island was part of the route for slaves and spices. As a result, ingredients such as curcuma, massala, ginger and chilli are common in creole cooking.
Fusion of flavours illustrates really well what creole food is all about. Farmers markets are extremely popular here. It is also a tradition for small producers to sell their produce by the roadside. So fresh ingredients are always available.
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