From Publishers Weekly
Ever wonder how to tell mildew from crystallized essence on those vanilla beans in your cupboard? Ever hear about the 17th-century Jewish vanilla curers of Guyana? Need a recipe for Chipotle-Vanilla Salsa? Thanks to her extensive experience in the vanilla field (Rain's a vanilla broker, president of the Vanilla.COMpany, and author of The Vanilla Cookbook
), Rain can discuss everything from the various international terms for the hand-pollination of vanilla flowers to the ethical issues raised by synthetic vanilla. In this surprisingly comprehensive survey, she takes readers through the history of vanilla production from Mexico to Indonesia, covering relatively obscure producers like the French island of Réunion, as well as Madagascar and the nearby Comoro Islands. While the vanilla orchid is sensuous and aesthetically pleasing, the story (as Rain presents it) of how various colonial powers subjugated indigenous producers to reap the profits from its cultivation is not as pretty. Rain leavens this sometimes depressing history with recipes, folkloric tales and personal vignettes. While few readers may want to drink even a modern adaptation of Aztec hot chocolate or prepare an Indonesian rice pudding with "black glutinous rice," pandan leaf and palm sugar syrup, Rain's advice on choosing and using vanilla in the home kitchen is quite useful. Photos, illus.
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As the author notes, it is very odd that the term vanilla
has come to represent plainness and simplicity. It only shows how much we have learned to take for granted the rare and complex flavor and perfume of the seedpods of this highly prized orchid. Although the origins of vanilla are shrouded in pre-Columbian Mexican history, Cortes and his troops became aware of it and chocolate at nearly the same time and introduced Europeans to vanilla's savory and olfactory delights. Rain meticulously traces vanilla's history and manufacture in Mexico and follows its gradual transplantation to other tropical climes. Thanks to hybridization and continuing strong demand for vanilla, plantations have sprung up everywhere the fussy vanilla orchid can flourish and wherever there is sufficient hand labor to cultivate it. Country by country, Rain outlines the history of vanilla production, the economic impact of its processing, and the unique local characteristics of each area's vanilla. Illustrations supplement the text, and recipes appear in sidebars from both historic and contemporary sources. Mark KnoblauchCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved